The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

Follow us on Instagram

One year later, Asbury University reflects on the 2023 revival that took the internet by storm

Abbey Cutrer
Jen Ramlet, a missions pastor, raises her arms in worship on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Ramlet flew from Orange County, California with her children to experience the revival. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

A line of hundreds of people trailed down the steps of a packed chapel, snaked its way through the grassy lawn, and wound down the sidewalk of a small Christian college in Wilmore, Ky.

The singing could be heard from outside the large Hughes Auditorium on campus, and people waiting for the chance to get in sang praise songs in time with those inside.

People knelt to pray at the altar, worshiped, and held friends and strangers alike.

Overflow chapels across the street were just as full, the darkness outside broken by light streaming from the windows.

Lines of cars flooded into the campus, all full of people hoping for a chance to witness the phenomenon now known as the Asbury revival.

It was Valentine’s Day, and although the revival had already lasted six days, the holiday did little to reduce the crowds or their enthusiasm as the 24/7 worship service continued in full swing.

The revival began as a regularly scheduled chapel service for Asbury University students on Feb. 8, 2023, and turned into a two week non-stop worship service that drew thousands of people from across the country.

Students texted their friends and family, excitedly telling them about what was happening on campus, and encouraging everyone they knew to come to Hughes, the place the revival began.

That Valentine’s evening, the sounds of collective worship echoed off the walls in Hughes.

Every row, every seat, every corner of the auditorium was filled with people, many holding up their hands as they sang.

The words “Holy, holy, holy are you Lord God Almighty,” were repeated by the congregation, with no instruments or band to lead them.

Videos posted to social media platforms show similar scenes, of a crowd of people from every age, race and demographic worshiping together at Asbury.

“People were just coming from every denomination…we just really experienced God doing a multi-ethnic kind of unity in the Body of Christ, every skin color being represented, people coming from countries around the world,” the Rev. Greg Hasseloff, Asbury University pastor said.

The scene was similar every day and night for two weeks.

Students struggled to find parking, get to class and navigate their college home as a result of the massive amount of people flocking to Wilmore.

Every lot around campus was full, and cars were backed up along the narrow two lane road leading to Hughes.

Some students described the crowds as intimidating at the time, but still saw the value in opening their campus to people seeking to experience the spiritual outpouring.

One TikTok user, Asbury student Abby Rhae, posted a video on Feb. 16, 2023 with the caption, “There’s hardly any room for us Asbury students to get in chapel the past few days. Upsetting? Nope. Aggravating? Nope. if the lost are being found, if the sick are being healed, if the captives are being set free, if the prodigals are coming home- I don’t care if there’s ever room for me in those walls again.”

People line up outside waiting to worship on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Lindsey Melhorn, Asbury student and chapel worship singer, said the students and staff alike rallied to provide for attendees and continue the service.

“Having space for people and also getting food, giving resources, it was so cool seeing how many people would start to serve in ways of bringing food and bringing blankets, and tents if it was raining,” Melhorn said.

Hasseloff estimated that there were around 15,000 people in the small town on some days of the revival.

“Saturday and Sunday, both of those days, there were more guests than there were residents of Wilmore,” he said.

Matthew Terwilliger, a 20-year-old Asbury student, recorded his time in Hughes, taking videos of the packed auditorium.

Terwilliger sent his videos to his youth pastor back in his home state of Pennsylvania, Eddie Witkowski, who decided to post them to his youth group TikTok page.

Total, five to seven of Terwilligers videos were posted to TikTok by Witkowski, and Terwilliger said they amassed around two million views total, with people commenting things like “Is it worth it to come?” and “Is this true?”

Witkowski noticed an increasing number of comments with questions in a foreign language.

After putting the questions into Google translate, Witowski realized the language was Portuguese, and that people were commenting “Is anyone else hearing this in Portuguese?”

Many more comments, also in Portuguese, said things like “yes, I am hearing this in Portuguese.”

The video, which contained a worship song being sung by the choir and echoed back by the congregation, was in English.

“It’s a modern day Pentecost, it’s a modern day speaking in tongues…I’ve heard stories, we’ve read the Bible, of people speaking in tongues and people speaking in a different language, but I’ve never really given thought to the idea of God using a piece of technology to do it as well,” Terwilliger said.

Terwilliger suggested the events had a scripture based explanation, and that they were similar to something that happened in the Bible.

Pentecost is recorded in Acts chapter two in the Bible, and was an event when those people who followed Jesus during his ministry received the Holy Spirit, a deity that is part of God and anoints believers, and they began to speak in foreign languages that they did not know.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them,” verses 3-4 say.

Terwilliger said he had spent time praying for God to change hearts on Asbury’s campus before the revival even began.

He would go to Hughes auditorium in the mornings for his daily devotional, and read the Bible and pray alone.

He prayed over the campus and the auditorium, over the students and the staff.

He jumped into the pulpit, prayed over specific seats in the chapel, over the altar and over the balcony.

Terwilliger said that he used to go to Hughes for his alone time studying the Bible, but since the revival, he has decided to go elsewhere because of how many people frequent the auditorium now.

“I would just surround the place with prayer, I would just go to different spots and pray or to sit in silence. And so it was just time of filling myself up and praying and learning more about the Bible,” he said.

When the revival began, Terwilliger saw his prayers answered, but not in the way he imagined they would be.

“I personally never expected the outpouring… I prayed that God would change hearts very slowly, because I didn’t expect an outpouring could happen, honestly,” he said.

Nine revivals have been recorded at Asbury since its founding in 1890.

In February of 1908, a similar story to the one in 2023 unfolded, and a chapel service turned into two weeks of worship and prayer.

In February of 1950, personal testimony from one student led to 118 hours of prayer and other testimony, ultimately leading to an estimated 50,000 Christian converts, according to the Asbury University website.

More revivals at Asbury began in similar ways, with students remaining in chapel services to worship and pray long past the regularly scheduled end time of the service.

Crowds gather to worship on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff (Abbey Cutrer)

Of the nine revivals Asbury has experienced, seven of them have begun in the month of February and two in March.

“I think being able to identify the patterns is a little tough,” Hasseloff said.

He attributes the recurring early spring revivals, possibly, to academic schedules, weather-related mental health and spiritual guidance at the university.

“There’s this build across the year even, and just who God called us to be. So I think that rhythm feeds into the progression of what God’s doing in any given academic year for Asbury students, if that makes sense,” Hasseloff said.

University of Kentucky graduate Hayley Ice said she also believes “timing and seasons matter to God.”

“I think scripture and testimony of Christians points to the fact that the Lord works in cycles…” she said. “I think that He does different things in different seasons, especially winter turning into spring.”

Ice attended the revival at Asbury in 2023 after hearing about it at school and through the Christian Student Fellowship on UK’s campus.

“It was truly a group of college kids that loved the Lord, and wanted more of what they were getting, and it just snowball effect, because vulnerability breeds vulnerability, and worship breeds worship, and it was an outpouring of love to the Lord,” she said.

News of the Revival spread quickly through social media platforms such as Tiktok, and gained a massive amount of media attention, filling many news segments and even capturing the attention of larger national networks.

Tucker Carlson, former Fox News host, reached out to the school and said he planned to come to Wilmore to cover the event.

Carlson reported on one of his shows that his team received a call from Asbury University, asking them not to come, saying that “the ongoing service at Asbury is purely spiritual; it’s got nothing to do with politics or business.”

“We understood that; in fact, we deeply respected it. When you work in television, you run into a lot of people who want publicity. You almost never meet anyone who doesn’t want publicity,” Carlson said. “And when you do meet people who don’t want publicity, they’re either doing something wrong, or, in the rarest of all cases, they’re doing something right, something so right, and so beautiful, and so true, that media coverage can’t enhance it.”

There are those with skepticism about the validity of Christian revivals, who claim that the spontaneity of them are a result of emotional manipulation.

Elbert Hubbard, American philosopher and self-described anarchist, explains his belief regarding revivals in his 1906 article, “Psychology of a Religious Revival.”

“Religious revivals are managed very much as are street-fairs. If religion is getting at a low ebb in your town, you can hire Chapman, the revivalist, just as you can secure the services of Farley, the strike-breaker. Chapman and his helpers go from town to town and from city to city and work up this excitation as a business,” the article said.

Hubbard was the publisher and editor of the magazine “The Philistine” and published multiple works in his lifetime, including his most notable, “A message to Garcia.”

Those that experienced the outpouring at Asbury argue that revivals are a direct result of the Holy Spirit, and the passion people have for worship.

“As an analytic theologian, I am weary of hype and very wary of manipulation…And truth be told, this is nothing like that. There is no pressure or hype. There is no manipulation. There is no high-pitched emotional fervor,” Asbury theology Professor Tom McCall said of the revival in his article in Christianity Today, published in February of 2023.

Ice said that those who suggest the revival was put on for show, or that it was not as spiritually motivated as it seemed, are mistaken.

“I understand why people would be concerned for manipulation, but I also think that people calling something like the Asbury outpourings manipulation can’t fully understand the power of the Holy Spirit, because they don’t have the Holy Spirit, and I think that’s an important distinction, because having the Holy Spirit in my heart, I know the power of Christ,” she said.

Ice attributes the cause of revival to the zeal of those who experience the Holy Spirit, and their desire to worship.

Allie Melhorn, the sister of Asbury worship team member Lindsey Melhorn, is a student at Lipscomb University, and had been praying for revival from her school in Tennessee.

“Lindsey texted us on Monday, Feb. 6, and said that students at Asbury felt something stirring, and they felt something happening. And they were praying about it,” she said. “One thing that was crazy about my side of the story is that in January of 2023, I started going to a church that had been praying for revival… I had kind of been praying for this without knowing for like, about a month of my life. So it was just really crazy. And I think that’s one reason why we still really love to talk about it, because I do really think that God, He wove our stories together throughout all this.”

Allie had spent the month of January studying the biblical book of Acts with her church, learning about revivals, what they are and how they happen.

When her sister informed her of the worship that had not stopped in days, Allie and her gospel choir team at Lipscomb began praying and worshiping God for the revival that was happening in Wilmore.

Before traveling to Asbury to see the revival, Allie said she received a revelation from God through a mentor.

“I was prophesied over, which had never happened to me. But I was specifically prophesied over that I was going to have renewed vision for the world, basically renewed joy and renewed vision, because I have been having a lot of anxiety and depression,” Allie said. “I went there on Saturday, Feb. 18…when I got there, and I saw Lindsey, one of the first things that she said was ‘I see Jesus in your eyes again.’ And the prophecy had specifically been over my eyes.”

Allie said that the revival gave her a new perspective.

“I have a very vivid memory of, I was kneeling on the ground, just weeping, and Lindsey came and knelt with me. And we were just both fully worshiping. And it was one of the moments when I have felt the Holy Spirit more than ever in my life,” she said.

While she was at Asbury, Allie said she noticed that most of the people in the auditorium were 25 years old or younger.

“It was like everyone in our generation, who were surrendering their lives, all over again, and they were lifting their hands,” she said. “God was uniting us through this, and uniting all Christians through this.”

View Comments (1)
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Abbey Cutrer, Editor-in-Chief

Comments (1)

All Kentucky Kernel Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • S

    Susan E HillardJun 13, 2024 at 1:53 pm

    This article touched me greatly. I, too attended one of the services. I can verify that I felt the power of the Holy Spirit as soon as I walked in. It was so good to be in the house of the Lord, and I was able to carry that back with me to my home church in Corydon Indiana.