‘It was peace’: Local residents reflect on worshiping at Asbury

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As Tammy Coughenour drove past Asbury University on Feb. 15, where round-the-clock singing and prayer had continued for days following a student chapel service on Feb. 8, she saw a long line and wondered if she’d even get in.

“It was wound around the college,” she said.

Pouring rain began as she passed block after block looking for a place to park. She realized she’d forgotten her umbrella.

For several days Coughenour, of Greenfield, had followed reports online about the Christian college in Wilmore, Kentucky. Eventually, “I just started feeling drawn to go,” she said, thinking of “the story in the Bible where the woman went through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment” (in Matthew 9:20-22).

She is one of a number of Hancock Countians who drove three hours south recently to experience firsthand what university leaders call the Outpouring, “a time of spiritual renewal” as described on the university website.

Several describe the simplicity of the service they found going on there, and say that despite that — or perhaps because of it — what they witnessed was powerful.

‘CHAINS BEING BROKEN’

“It’s just very unscripted, led-by-the-Spirit worship,” Shauna Nivens said.

She said different groups of students led music in the chapel, switching teams every hour or so. Meanwhile, some people would share their stories with prayer team members, who chose about 10 people to share in between music sets with the whole congregation in the chapel.

“Some testified to healing, to chains being broken of addiction — just different things they were thankful for,” Coughenour said.

‘THE ONLY SUPERSTAR’

Mark Wright and his wife, Kathy, were already in Louisville after a Valentine’s Day getaway. “I said, ‘Asbury’s only a little over an hour away.’”

It was early afternoon, and they got in quickly. (When they left five hours later, there was a long line.)

Amid the worship music, he said, “People were praying. Some of them were praying in groups; some were praying at the altar. …

“In our country … anxiety is at a high. That was not present. It was peace,” said Wright, senior pastor of Brandywine Community Church in Greenfield. “A lot of the young students were saying, ‘I came in with anxiety and stress, and the Lord took that away.’”

He said there was humbleness among the students and a contriteness in the room.

“People were getting right with God,” he said.

“What stood out most was that there were no superstar speakers or worship leaders. Jesus was the only superstar, which is what I thought made it so powerful.”

‘FEELING OF GLORY’

Nivens said her husband, J.K., suggested driving down with their four children and some classmates, “where they can visually see what God is doing in people’s lives.” On Feb. 18 they traveled to Wilmore with 16 teenagers.

Nivens, of Greenfield, wondered if she and her husband would get into Hughes Auditorium, where the service was going on. By this point, with thousands swarming the small town of Wilmore, there was emphasis on admitting those 25 and younger. Yet every member of the group was able to get in.

“You just felt an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence,” she said. “Time falls away, you never want it to end, you never want to leave this feeling of glory of God’s presence.”

They had waited three hours to get in. Nivens said two large screens showed the service to those outside. A truck being used as a mobile prayer station made its way among the crowds.

“There were many people, I think, who had even given up” on getting in, she said. “The whole entire audience out on the lawn was responding … the same way they were inside.”

James Young of Greenfield, one of three siblings in his family who are Asbury alumni, also made the trek to Wilmore. In an email, he said he never went into the auditorium but spent Saturday afternoon on campus.

‘EXCITED FOR THIS GENERATION’

Feb. 18 turned out to be the last day of the continuous service that began Feb. 8. That evening, the university president announced the service would end at 1 a.m. Feb. 19. He said daily services leading up to Thursday’s Collegiate Day of Prayer would be for participants 16-25 years old and that livestreaming would be added. No service was planned for Friday.

Gary Wright of Greenfield, a 1973 Asbury College graduate, thinks students and university administrators have navigated well among the influx of people — tens of thousands in a town of 6,000.

He was a freshman when “a spirit of powerful revival,” as described on the university website, came upon a February 1970 chapel service. He already professed to be a Christian but found this a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey.

He became a pastor and in the 1980s founded World Renewal, whose headquarters is now east of Greenfield. World Renewal works with mission partners in about a dozen countries.

Even during his senior year, people were still thinking about what had happened in 1970. Visitors would stop by Asbury to pray in Hughes Auditorium.

At college reunions, “when people are talking eventually it gets back to the 1970 revival,” he said.

“I’m so excited for this generation to have this kind of experience with the Lord. It’s nice to see people get so excited about the presence of the Lord.”

Gary Wright, an older brother to Brandywine pastor Mark Wright, spent many weekends after that eight-day marathon of worship at Asbury traveling with fellow students to other communities, including Anderson.

They would tell congregations what happened at Asbury and often see similar events unfold: services that went on for hours; crowds that overfilled churches, causing services to be moved to larger venues; and people who hadn’t seemed interested in faith before showing up with urgency.

Both brothers realize some have questions about what took place at Asbury this month. They said knowing what to call it, such as attaching the word revival, depends in part on what happens next.

“Does it change behavior in our churches and our communities?” Gary Wright said. “If there’s changed lives, if there’s changed behavior, it’s real.”

‘THIS IS PRECIOUS’

His advice to current Asbury students would be to make a connection between what they’ve just experienced and their everyday lives.

“You’ve seen something people long to see …,” he said. “Realize this is precious and learn to integrate it into your life, so that you are a witness for the rest of your life.”