A Quaker Experience at the Asbury Revival

Photos courtesy of the author

An interview with Karla Jay is included in our April 2023 podcast.

Editor’s Note: On February 8, a regularly scheduled chapel service at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, spontaneously kept going and turned into a nonstop continuing revival lasting two weeks, with services winding down as of Tuesday, February 21. It caught the attention of many American Christians as news spread through TikTok and other social media. The school has had a handful of revivals over the last 100-plus years, with the one in 1970 being particularly influential for both the Jesus Movement and Methodism.

Last week, on February 16, I decided to go to the Asbury revival and experience for myself what everyone was excited about. I will admit I went in part because I am skeptical toward these kinds of events and of church leaders who abuse the word “revival.”

I decided to go with a group of friends who also wanted to experience what was happening. When we arrived at Asbury University, we got in line, and quickly one of the ushers approached us and asked if we needed prayer; we said, “Yes.” He asked if we wanted to pray for anything in particular, and we said, “That we may feel His Presence.” He prayed for us. It was a simple prayer; he did not lay his hands over us; he did not ask us if wanted to accept Jesus. He simply prayed for us and asked God to give us what we needed.

I noticed that the school wasn’t taking advantage of this opportunity to promote itself. There were no tents except one for media personnel. Outside the Hughes Auditorium, there were two lines of people patiently waiting to go inside.

When we were able to enter the auditorium, we were asked to go up into the balcony, where there was space available. I noticed the serene, quiet nature of what was happening: you could barely hear the two musicians playing acoustic instruments, and the music was very quiet and peaceful. What you could hear was the crowd of people singing and praying. The worship leaders weren’t suggestive and didn’t have an agenda or program: they were not directing the crowd to close their eyes, to lift up their hands, or to kneel. They were simply, softly, and quietly leading the songs. There were no flashing lights; no one was yelling; no one was on the floor (perhaps some knelt); no one was dancing or speaking in tongues. Everything was so soft and gentle. The auditorium was simple and low-key with a traditional organ in the front, along with a sign reading, “Holiness unto the Lord.”

I’ll be completely honest: I did not have an overwhelming experience, which had been my expectation. But I can speak to what I did not feel: I did not feel desperate, anxious, or bored, which in my lifetime of church services, I have felt, especially at services that tried to create a revival with exciting music, dancers, and flashing lights. I felt peaceful at that moment; we were there for an hour and a half, and it felt as if it had only been 15 minutes.

I don’t think anyone can explain what was happening there. After all, we really can’t explain the Holy Spirit. And, as the president of Asbury said, it might be too soon to call this a revival; this seems more like an awakening. If this is in fact a revival, I believe it is only the first part. As soon as I got home, I got my Bible out and wanted to see what comes next after an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; I opened it to the second chapter of Acts. I noticed that the people repented of their sins, a community was formed in which they shared everything together, and they sold their property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. They were honest, and people held them in high regard. My prayer is that this is, in fact, the beginning of a revival: that we can repent of our sins—both as individuals and as the Church.

The American Church needs to repent of the original sin of racism, and make reparations to those It hurt. America is hurting: we live under the constant threat of mass shootings; we are constantly witnessing innocent blood being shed on our streets by those who should protect us; families are separated at the border by the U.S. government; the gap between rich and poor is only widening. America is crying out for justice.

I don’t think God is done with the United States, but I do believe He is tired of the American Church calling “evil good and good evil” (Isa. 5:20 NIV). I believe God still wants to use the American Church, but there has to be real and genuine repentance. We have already begun to see that soon Christianity won’t be the major religion. Our pews are empty, and more and more people don’t want to be part of the Church. Why would they want to be part of an institution that has promoted so much of what is wrong with our society?

Young people see the Church as an institution that points Its fingers at people who are not Christian for sins like abortion, but otherwise offers no real solutions. The Church is seen as an institution that is willing to sell Its soul to anyone who promises crumbs of political power. The American Church has no real authority in preaching the gospel when It sits in judgment over the world with no Good News to offer and no real example to follow. The American Church expects people to act as if they were Christians, when people in the Church don’t even act like Christians. How can we point to the sins of the world when we ourselves haven’t been convicted of our own?

Unfortunately, the American Church has become like the people of Israel in the Book of Amos. God complains about what was wrong with their behavior:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (5:21–24 NIV)

My prayer is that the Church does not continue with business as usual; that the American Church can have a real and genuine repentance and conversion; that the college students at Asbury University can lead the Church into a new era, so that our society can truly come to know Jesus. And I pray that we can see the work of the Holy Spirit—not just to gather people from all over the world in Kentucky to sing for several days but to transform our lives, so that we can bring healing and love to our society and the world can witness what the gospel that Jesus preached is really about.

I haven’t lost hope for the American Church, and these students at Asbury have given me more hope: if we can humble ourselves, God can still use us, despite our sinful ways.

Karla Jay

Karla Jay currently works at Friends United Meeting as global ministries coordinator. She is a member of Iglesia Amigos in Indianapolis, Ind. Karla was born in Guatemala but soon moved to the United States. She is deeply passionate about the mission of the church as a way to make social justice a possibility. She is married to Michael Jay, pastor at Raysville Friends Church in Knightstown, Ind., and lives in Richmond, Ind., with her three black cats.

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