Uncontainable: Spirit’s Work at Asbury Inspires Church of God Interest, Action
By Carl Stagner
Reports of revival emerging from the campus of Asbury University spread rapidly over the past week with the unplanned continuation of a chapel service that began on Wednesday, February 8. In response to a “call to confession,” at least a hundred students flooded the altars at the Wilmore, Kentucky, institution, reflecting what has been described as a fresh move of the Holy Spirit reminiscent of the diligently chronicled, far-reaching impact left by the Asbury Revival of 1970. As of Day 8, lights have remained on in Hughes Auditorium (and nearby overflow spaces), where worship, prayer, and testimony persist, even through the overnight hours. As reports of revival spillover surface from the campuses of other colleges and universities near and far, curiosity has attracted visits from college students, pastors, and congregations everywhere—including the Church of God.
Josh Tandy serves as campus pastor at Anderson University. He says, “There were at least five students that went down Friday night through Sunday; however, I have heard talk of other students that also went. In terms of spillover, Dave and Greta Reames [former Church of God missionaries] led a time of prayer on Friday night that about thirty students attended. There have been multiple student gatherings both formally and informally for prayer. We’re definitely seeing an uptick in the conversation and seemingly openness to the Spirit from students.”
Church of God pastors Melissa Pratt and Jessica Hall were among the first ministers in the Movement to make their way to Wilmore. Prior to departure on a 178-mile trek, Pastor Melissa announced on social media, “I have made the decision to drive to Asbury tomorrow to be part of what God is doing. I will leave after church. I don’t know that I will be back on Sunday night, but will definitely return sometime Monday. If anyone wants to go with me, send me a private message.”
Pastor Melissa concluded her sermon at Teays Valley Church of God in Scott Depot, West Virginia, and embarked on an adventure that would prove nothing short of inspirational. “The presence of the Lord is sweet on the campus of Asbury University and Seminary,” she observed. “The crowd has swelled to the point where the seminary chapel is also open now. There is a sincerity and willingness to wait on God that is just simply beautiful. The altars constantly in use. People are praying for one another. The students/crowds are being pastored through this experience by seasoned Christian leaders. There is great peace here, and it is a wonderful place to be.”
Jessica Hall, who shepherds Beulah Church of God in Eubank, Kentucky, echoed similar sentiment from her experience on the Asbury campus. “The Spirit is moving in a quiet, peaceful, yet overwhelming way…. There are no big lights, no professional worship teams with bands, no fire-and-brimstone preaching, but there are hundreds of people of all ages, from all places, lifting their voices in praise together, seeking for and finding healing, redemption, and freedom through Jesus. There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place! There is a moving of God happening that cannot and will not be contained in this space!”
Pratt and Hall aren’t alone among Church of God pastors inspired to take a “spontaneous” road trip to Wilmore. Jimmy Swogger, who pastors Oakland Church of God in Distant, Pennsylvania, posted to Facebook early in the week, “I just got here at 10 at night, couldn’t find a parking spot hardly anywhere. From the minute you step on campus, it’s almost like a tingling feeling. Totally awesome! I can’t contain myself. I’m broken—a good broken.” Swogger went on to spend fifteen hours on the campus before departing for home, but not before expressing his desire to see the revival spread “from campus to campus, church to church, state to state.”
Church of God pastor Steve Birch remembers the Asbury Revival of 1970, an event which had a direct spiritual impact on he and his wife when it spread to Anderson, Indiana. He and his wife had “to see what was happening,” and describes what he saw through the lens of one who remembers the historic events:
“We experienced an amazing movement of the Holy Spirit in 1970 at South Meridian Church of God in Anderson. I attended most of the 56 nights there. Now, it is over 50 years later, and I am not a 19-year-old kid asking God what is next. Yet I still find myself asking that question…. I was not sure what to expect. My frame of reference was from 1970. I noticed the great diversity in the crowd. Some folks my age, lots of young families, many with small children and babies in tow. Of course, lots of students. Surveys tell us faith in God is declining, but it is obvious there is still a hunger for something more. As a kid growing up, my youth pastor described it as a hole in our heart only God could fill. I expected this to be emotional and I shed some tears, but the overwhelming feeling in the room was awe and reverence. I felt myself just wanting to be still and know that he is God. I pray that God will use this special anointing to bring hope to our broken world. Brenda and I both said, as we left, ‘People still are looking for something that matters.’”
Church of God pastor Marcus Archer (Crosspoint Church in Natchez, Mississippi) broadcasted live on Facebook Tuesday night, opening with the intriguing question, “What in the world am I doing out here and where am I going [so late at night]?” Archer, who has trusted friends and former professors who once attended Asbury, also wanted to see for himself what is unfolding in Wilmore, Kentucky. Arriving in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, February 15, he offered several updates with pictures and video, including offering the following reflection concerning the relevance of such an experience happening among a generation of students. “There’s so many things a college student could be doing at 2:30 AM.” Recalling his personal propensity as a student to spend hours playing video games in his dorm room, Marcus noted the clear movement of the Holy Spirit. Instead of sleeping or playing video games, “These kids are standing in worship and kneeling in prayer,” he noted. “That alone is a clear sign of something extraordinary at Asbury University.”
Earlier Pastor Marcus reflected that, “This is not a drill. It’s the real thing. There isn’t crazy screaming, running, weird ‘manifestations,’ or anything else like that. There are the true hallmarks of revival: repentance, confession, deliverance, reconciliation, redemption. I pray this spreads across the nation just as the 1970 Asbury Revival did!”
Respected Church of God pastor and author Jeff Frymire has taught as an associate professor of homiletics at Asbury Theological Seminary adjacent to Asbury University. He weighed in on the Asbury Revival of 2023 in a post that has circulated among many friends and far beyond:
There are some things I can’t explain. It’s not a lack of knowledge or experience that causes this but, instead, it is a lack of words to explain experience. Revival is one of those things.
When I was at Fuller doing my PhD, I did a research paper on the revivalist ministry of Charles Finney. It was illuminating. Finney believed that revival was normal and would break out if certain factors were done. Others saw it as a supernatural expression of God in the culture. The Great Revival with Jonathan Edwards in the mid-1700s changed the trajectory of the nation in ways few history books recount. By the time the new century came, a revival broke out in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, that garnered some 25,000 people from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states who made their way to Cane Ridge (imagine how difficult that was in 1800). Healings, restoration, new church movements, salvation, sanctification, and so much more occurred during those weeks. The revival finally ended when there was no more food in the area to sustain the crowds. Revivals then broke out in places where the visitors to Cane Ridge returned. It has been called the American Pentecost.
In 1970 a revival broke out on the campus of Asbury College (across the street from Asbury Seminary where I teach). The revival grew and expanded. At one point it reached Anderson College (where I am now) and, for more than two months, services continued every day and night. Charles Tarr, the pastor at South Meridian Church of God, wrote about the experience in his book A New Wind Blowing. Some of the revival spread through small groups of college students from Asbury going out to share the story. As they did, revivals would break out in other places.
I am a witness to this effect. In 1970 I was a junior in high school in Gloucester, New Jersey. One day we had an impromptu convocation at our school. A group came and sang and shared a bit. It was nice. At the end they invited students to a local Methodist Church for a service that night. After the convocation, I went to my chemistry class with Mr. Hetherington. We found out that he was a part of that church, and he renewed the invitation. I went that night, drawn to something I could not articulate. That night began a journey for me that culminated a year later in my own commitment to Christ in a dramatic conversion experience at a Youth Convention in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, just prior to graduating from high school. By the time my freshman year in college was finished, I felt called to ministry, transferred from Penn State to Anderson College, and began preparing for a lifetime of ministry. I am a product of that 1970 Asbury Revival.
On Wednesday, again at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, revival has broken out. When chapel ended Wednesday morning, well, it didn’t end…. [and] the worship has continued without others controlling the experience. Reports have been coming into Facebook and other places from the Asbury Collegian (the university newspaper), and reports from individuals who have been there and experienced the moment. I have friends who have been posting pictures and clips of the worship. My friend, Darrell Allen, has reported that the revival has already spread to Ohio Christian University and to the University of Kentucky. This is one of those things I can’t explain. And I’m OK with that. I only wonder where it will all go, and I pray it will not end.
Even as this story is published, the inspiration and fascination concerning authentic revival is having great effect on Church of God students, pastors, and congregations. Several local churches have announced impromptu prayer services and gatherings. University students are recognizing something bigger than themselves is in the works and are responding to the Spirit’s call. Where will it all go? as Dr. Frymire asks. We don’t know, but we, too, pray it will not end.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Worship during the Asbury Revival of 2023 inside Hughes Auditorium. Photo courtesy Jessica Hall.