Skip links

‘This is just the beginning’ Organic spiritual revival at Asbury draws thousands from across U.S. (Kentucky Conference)

February 16, 2023

When Georgia Dobson and Haley Smith saw on TikTok that a spiritual revival was taking place as Asbury University, they knew they had to go see it for themselves. The friends, both 16, live in New Albany, Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville and about a 90-minute drive from Wilmore.

“It’s so close,” Haley said Wednesday, Feb. 15, as she and Georgia stood outside Hughes Memorial Auditorium on the Asbury campus, waiting to go inside where a student-led revival, dubbed by some the “outpouring,” was in its eighth day and showing no signs of ending anytime soon.

Added Georgia, “We want to be a part of it.”

The two were among at least 100 people in line waiting to go into the auditorium, where the revival has continued day and night and spilled onto additional sites on the campus and across the street at Asbury Theological Seminary. It began Feb. 8 after what appeared to be a routine chapel service. Since then, aided by TikTok, Facebook, and other social media, word has spread far and wide and at last count had attracted people of all ages, including students from at least 20 colleges and universities, both Christian and secular.

Bishop Leonard Fairley, who is currently leading a tour in the Holy Land, said he supports the movement at Asbury “and everywhere the Spirit deems to move.” He also expressed excitement that the revival is being led by young people.

University staff and other longtime residents of the area have expressed amazement and awe at what is transpiring in Wilmore, attributing the organic and student-driven awakening to the Holy Spirit. They noted that Asbury, a private school founded in 1890 with roots in The United Methodist Church, has a history of such revivals. But this one, they say, is special in its size, scope, and power, drawing comparisons to a revival in 1970 that went for a week and a half and drew thousands of pilgrims – much as this one is doing.

The scene on the greenspace outside Hughes Auditorium on this sunny, springlike day was peaceful, but energetic and festive. People were coming to and going from the auditorium. Media crews from Lexington and elsewhere were interviewing people; small groups were gathered together praying; children ran and played on the periphery. People waited patiently in line to go inside the auditorium as others in front of them left and room opened up.

“The unity is beautiful,” said Donna Cherry, 65, of Indianapolis, who traveled to Wilmore with JoAnn Richmond, 83, and Karen Mitchell, 48. They had arrived a few hours earlier, “just to be in the presence of God,” Mitchell said. “This is just the beginning.” They also had learned of the revival on social media.

They, like others interviewed and posts on social media, were struck by the low-key but powerful spirit present – no hype, no agendas – just people of all ages, races, and walks of life, coming together to worship Christ.

Cherry said that when she was active in a United Methodist church in the 1970s, the pastor had two daughters attending Asbury who had experienced revival. “So, I knew it was real,” she said of this event. 

Sarah, 33, who did not provide her last name, was in line with two other people from Monticello, Kentucky. They also had learned of it on social media. “We’re just here to check out the movement,” she said.

Kayla Mattox and Tyler Frye, both 27 and students at the seminary, also were in line to check it out. Frye said the feeling across the campuses has been different since the revival broke out. “The spirit’s presence is in the classrooms, too,” Mattox said.

Rev. Jim McIlrath, 70, a retired elder from the South Georgia Annual Conference, was sitting outside the auditorium as the line slowly filed past. He said he was present at the February 1970 revival, doing some janitorial work on campus at the time. He said someone came into the campus library and shouted for people to “get over to the chapel; the Holy Spirit is moving!”

McIlrath said he’ll never forget the scene – people lining up to give personal testimony, sometimes four deep kneeling at the altar. It lasted 10 days. When he arrived this week, he said, he felt the same sense of God’s spirit in the room.

“I’m so privileged. How many people can say they’ve been through two of these things?” He said that “there’s something about this place (Hughes Auditorium) that’s unique,” adding that he heard of similar revivals in 1905, 1923, and 1950.

Rev. Dr. Esther Jadhav, the university’s associate vice president of intercultural affairs, also mentioned the smaller revivals that have periodically taken place through the years at Asbury, But this one, she said, is something special.

“God’s presence has been tangible,” she said. “Our students, faculty, staff have just shared across the school that they have been experiencing God.”

Revs. Shirley and George Burke, co-pastors of the UMC church community Agape Fellowship in Louisville, also were present Wednesday. They also were drawn to Wilmore after hearing about the revival.

Shirley Burke said she was amazed at the range of ages of the people present and also how far many have traveled. She sat next to someone in the auditorium from San Antonio, Texas. Like others, she said the common theme is that people just want to gather and worship the Lord.

“I’ve just sensed that people are hungry and thirsty for God. You can feel it,” she said.

Rev. D. Merricks, pastor of Wilmore UMC, a couple of blocks from the auditorium, said he first ventured down to the revival Friday morning, mainly out of curiosity. He stayed about an hour.

“Within a few moments of being there, I felt a sense of peace in the room. That’s probably the best way to put it,” he said. His church and GCF Vineyard, another church that shares the Wilmore UMC building, have hosted an overflow space in the building as needed. Meantime, they are mostly carrying on with their normal church activities as best they can, given the parking challenges with so many visitors.

“My experience is that this is very real,” Merricks said. “They’re calling it the ‘outpouring.’ I think that’s a good term for it.”

Rev. Dr. Iosmar Alvarez, superintendent of the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Lexington District, is also among the Kentucky UMC clergy who have been to the revival. Many of them have posted about the experience online, including video clips.

Alvarez and his wife, Rev. Zulayne Alvarez, senior pastor at Fuente de Avavamiento in Lexington, were there Tuesday evening with their two daughters. It was his second time at the revival, and Alvarez said he wanted the girls to see it for themselves.

In an email, he wrote: “I experienced a Spirit-led revival that began with repentance among the young adults, college kids and have now extended to all generations. … I saw people from all generations, no labels, no distinction of race worshiping the One King who has no equal, Jesus Christ.”

As to how long the revival lasts, people said they will stay as long as the Holy Spirit leads them to stay. But the hope is that this will help to spark a widespread and lasting revival, and there have been secondhand reports online and at the revival of students returning to their campuses and revivals breaking out there, as well.

“It’s just really, really cool” to see God at work, said Haley, the 16-year-old from Indiana. She and Georgia planned to be there as long as they sensed the Lord’s leading them to stay.