On February 8, after what had been a regularly scheduled chapel service at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, something unexpected took place: the students didn’t want to leave the chapel. They wanted to stay and to pray. What ensued in the aftermath have been continuous — and overwhelmingly spontaneous — prayer, repentance, worship, testimony, reconciliation, and other classic signs of what has been historically called revival or awakening. The spontaneity of the Asbury Revival is noteworthy, even if it is a historic sign of revival. So too is the lack of revivalist leadership. Often revivals have leaders, but not in this case. The university continues to hold its scheduled chapel services during the week, but otherwise there is no organized leadership. It appears to be led by the Spirit.
Revival or awakening has been a historic pattern within the life of the Church for centuries. Some have called it an American phenomenon, but that’s simply not true. It comes in various places and in various forms throughout the history of the Church. Sometimes it’s a splashy event, and sometimes a quiet awakening that can only be seen properly with distance. Within Anglicanism, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, John Newton, William Cowper, and others come to mind as leaders of the 18th-century transatlantic sweep called the Evangelical Revival.
On this side of the pond, Devereux Jarratt was a notable figure in the Great Awakening as an Episcopal priest in Virginia. But Episcopalians haven’t always been open to the revivalism that swept across the country in later Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal settings. Leery of revivalism, Anglican clergy hounded George Whitefield out of Charleston in the middle of the 18th century. John Wesley noted anti-revivalism a few decades later when he encouraged American Methodist leaders not to place themselves under Episcopal bishops, fearful that these bishops would stifle revival, but his brother Charles worked to encourage a number of early American Methodist leaders to seek ordination within the Episcopal Church. The most notable of these men was Joseph Pilmore, an early leader of Methodist work in the colonial period who would eventually be ordained by Samuel Seabury and serve evangelical parishes in and around Philadelphia.
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