The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nonstop worship service at Kentucky college set to end after attracting thousands

Worshipers fill the Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., on Tuesday. People have been praying virtually nonstop in the auditorium since Feb. 8, when a regular school chapel spontaneously extended. Asbury has been the site of several previous well-known revivals, including in 1970. (Tim Whittaker)
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After almost two weeks of 24-hour worship, a revival at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., will end, the school said, with the last public evening service set for Sunday.

Thousands have traveled to the university’s chapel to take part what is being called the “Asbury Revival,” which began after morning service on Feb. 8. Word quickly spread after worshipers shared videos on TikTok and Instagram showing people praying with their hands extended above them, holding hands with strangers and crying to worship music.

The revival at the Christian school, which has fewer than 1,700 students and is located about a half-hour outside Lexington, drew national and international attention, attracting groups of students from at least 22 colleges and universities to its campus, and even gaining the support of former vice president Mike Pence, who tweeted his support of the movement.

But the crowds became too much, the university said.

“Students have not only had to juggle various campus commitments … but also the throngs of people who have entered the dimensions of their space,” Kevin J. Brown, the university’s president, said in a statement. “For some, this has created a sense of being unsettled and even alienation from their campus community.”

Why students at a Kentucky Christian school are praying and singing round the clock

Public worshiping will continue in the afternoons through Wednesday.

“Along with a new schedule, we are working with several groups to increase security, prayer and ministry support, event management, and overall logistical planning,” Brown said.

The school will no longer live-stream or broadcast anything from indoors and will search bags before people enter Hughes Memorial Auditorium, which was named for John Wesley Hughes, the founder of Asbury, and has a capacity of nearly 1,500.

David Legge first heard about the revival while waiting for a plane at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Legge’s original plan was to minister in Little Rock, but after landing in the United States and talking with his hosts, the Bible teacher from Ireland drove nine hours to be a part of the revival.

“We arrived about 4:30 p.m. last night, got a hotel, and stood in line for an hour to get in. And the line is about double or triple the size today,” Legge, 46, told The Washington Post on Friday.

Some in the college community expressed concern after the shooting at Michigan State University last week that left three students dead.

Alexandra Presta, the editor of Asbury’s student newspaper, wrote that questions of safety had been on her mind since the violence in Michigan.

“When we get to learn, we grow in our spiritual formation, gifts, callings and our relationships with God in general. However, our focus has been deterred; our safety is becoming at risk,” Presta wrote.

In Christianity, the term “spiritual revival” means a reawakening interest in church and God from believers and nonbelievers.

“What you’re seeing on social media is a real-time version of how revival has always spread in American history through accounts that inspire other people in other locations,” said Collin Hansen, editor in chief of the Gospel Coalition and author of a book that examines revivals throughout history.

Revivals have a long history in American colleges, many of which were founded by church groups that looked to the events as a part of student life, either to convert students or deepen their faith, Andrea Turpin, associate professor of history at Baylor University, told the Religion News Service. Experts say revivals can occur when people feel things have gone awry or there is need for hope.

For those who have traveled from near and far, this revival feels needed at a time of unrest and uncertainty.

In one video on social media, a young woman is speaking into a microphone with her eyes closed, saying: “You are in this place richly. We can feel you. We feel your presence like a blanket, it covers us all,” as people gather around, her praising her words.

The hashtag #asburyrevival had more than 68 million views on TikTok as of Sunday afternoon.

News of the revival had traveled through the participants.

“The university made an intentional decision not to publicize this because we wanted to place an abundance of respect toward the experience of our students,” Brown, the college’s president, told NBC News.

What struck Legge was the simplicity of it all.

“There were no celebrity praise leaders. There were no famous names giving addresses,” Legge said. “There was nothing for people to go there to other than the presence of God and what they felt God was doing in this space.”

Virginia Tech freshman Sophia Grover drove six hours with women from her Bible study group to attend the worship service on Wednesday. She moved quickly through the line to enter because she said organizers were prioritizing college students and those under 25. The first few rows were reserved for young people, she told The Post.

“I met people from Brazil who came; I met people who bought a one-way ticket,” Grover said.

The biological systems engineering major stayed for 12 hours.

There are reports of revivals emerging in Samford University in Alabama, Cedarville University in Ohio, and Lee and Belmont universities in Tennessee.

Asbury University famously held a revival in 1970 that lasted 185 hours, or more than seven days. It intermittently continued for weeks and spread across the United States and abroad. The school’s most recent revival lasted for four days in 2006.

Hansen compared the current revival to others spearheaded by youths, such as the Great Awakening in the 1700s and the Jesus Movement in the 1970s.

“This is regular but spontaneous and you can’t plan it,” Hansen said. “You can’t tell a bunch of college students that we’re going to pray together all night and share our secrets. You can’t plan that or engineer that.”

Most of the people The Post spoke to attended the revival over the course of multiple days and stayed in hotels or with friends, or were provided housing by the ministry’s hospitality team.

Ashlee V. Grant traveled from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children, ages 6, 2 and 6 weeks old.

“We wanted to be there, to have our presence there, to have Gen Z basically know that we are standing with [them],” said Grant, who is a minister along with her husband.

Grant said she saw miracles and healing take place and heard testimonies of people talking about their depression and suicidal thoughts during the revival. However, what struck her most was the hospitality.

A group of college students had coloring books and crayons and played with her older sons for hours, she recalled. “They had food and beverages. You didn’t have to leave that building for any supplies,” Grant said.

On their fourth night attending, it was too late in the day for the couple to drive home. The hospitality team set the family up in an upstairs apartment of a couple who lived two minutes from the university.

“We think that revival is only preaching of the Gospel and crying out. But actually it’s when the love of God is being displayed,” Grant said.

“Here we are, a young Black couple, and there’s an older White couple offering us their home to sleep in for however long we want and they made us feel like we were at home,” she said. “They didn’t know us, the only thing they have in common is the man, Christ Jesus. That’s when you know that something has taken place.”