‘Jesus was right next to me’: Asbury revival sets Catholics on fire with Holy Spirit
(OSV News) — A Kentucky university has become ground zero for what thousands are calling a mysterious move of the Holy Spirit — and local Catholics told OSV News the experience has been profound.
“It’s almost like a wellspring,” said Father Norman Fischer, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and chaplain at Lexington Catholic High School. “You just know right away that God is there.”
Since Feb. 8, a routine morning chapel gathering at Asbury University — a Christian liberal arts university located in Wilmore, Kentucky — has blossomed into a round-the-clock session of prayer, praise, worship and testimonials.
The school, rooted in the Methodist faith, includes chapel attendance as part of its curriculum. The Feb. 8 service, which Asbury president Kevin Brown described to media as “unremarkable,” was capped by a multicultural gospel choir — but rather than head to class afterward, students “stayed and continued to worship,” having been gripped by “a quiet but powerful sense of transcendence,” according to Thomas McCall, professor at the adjacent Asbury Theological Seminary, who shared his reflections in a Feb. 13 commentary.
Video clips have gone viral, and hundreds from near and far are streaming to the campus to join the gathering, which has alternately been dubbed “a revival,” “an awakening” and “an outpouring” of the Holy Spirit.
“Since the first day, there have been countless expressions and demonstrations of radical humility, compassion, confession, consecration, and surrender unto the Lord,” said Asbury University president Kevin J. Brown in a statement posted to the school’s website. “We are witnessing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
With the school’s Hughes Auditorium filled, Asbury administrators have set up simulcasts of the worship at three additional campus chapels. A dedicated email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, has been created for prayer requests.
“People are coming from all over — as far away as Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Indonesia, everywhere,” Christel Broady, associate professor of English as a Second Language at Asbury, told OSV News.
Broady, a Catholic, said the sight of students “suddenly kneeling together … arm in arm” brought her to tears.
For all the media buzz it has generated, however, the assembly is anything but sensationalistic — quite the opposite, Broady told OSV News.
“There is nothing fancy, nothing loud, nothing boisterous,” she said, noting that classes were continuing as normal.
Intermittent livestream footage and various social media clips show revival participants, most of them young adults, singing praise choruses to acoustic guitar accompaniment, led by small worship teams whose members rotate throughout the day and night. Many stand with arms raised in prayer; others sit or kneel in contemplation, listening to spontaneous testimonies and exhortations.
“To see all these young people in reverent worship, quiet and … giving God the glory, made me so happy, as a Catholic, as a mother, as a teacher,” Broady told OSV News.
Father Fischer told OSV News he visited Asbury after celebrating Sunday Mass Feb. 12, and saw several current and former Lexington Catholic High School students there.
“Hands were raised, people were singing, and all were in one accord,” said Father Fischer, adding he was reminded of Psalm 133:1, in which the psalmist declares “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one.”
Father Fischer, who wore his alb and stole while at Asbury, told OSV News he “got into praise mode” during what he called the “modernized Taizé experience,” and found himself “filled with love.”
The Asbury phenomenon is “pure” and “definitely of God, definitely of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
The fruits of the gathering are already apparent, said Father Fischer, who has heard confessions and has offered healing prayers for some attendees — including one young man struggling with addiction, whom the priest said has since been able to maintain several days of sobriety.
Katie Reynolds, a volunteer youth coordinator at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Lexington, has been to the Asbury gathering three times so far with her four children, ranging in age from 6 to 18 years.
The family’s first visit Feb. 12 stunned her, she said.
“I took our kids after a basketball game on Friday night at 9 p.m. … Every seat was full, and it was standing-room only,” Reynolds told OSV News. “You could feel the Holy Spirit in the building.”
Her 13-year-old son, Dylan, told OSV News he “thought it was really powerful and so cool to see everyone praising (God),” and that he “(loved) seeing … how Jesus and God came into their lives to help them.”
His 6-year-old sister, Lucy, told OSV News the singing made her feel as if “Jesus was right next to me.”
Reynolds said the gathering was “very organic,” with worship and prayer leaders “seeking zero attention.”
She also said the Asbury awakening is a call to all Christian faith communities, including the Catholic Church, to “roll out the red carpet to young people,” especially after the lingering sense of isolation from COVID-19 lockdowns, which stifled in-person youth ministry.
Mike Allen, director of family life and evangelization for the Diocese of Lexington, spent about an hour at Asbury Feb. 14, and told OSV News that “people are hungry and longing for intimacy, community. Young people (in particular) have been through a really difficult time due to the pandemic, and it will be a while before we fully unpack that experience.”
Allen, a former Methodist pastor who along with his wife came into full communion with the Catholic Church, attended Asbury Theological Seminary and said the school’s spiritual heritage included “an openness to a warm, interior experience of the faith and the Holy Spirit.”
Area Catholic parishes are looking to see how they can cultivate the same, especially as the Catholic Church in the U.S. enters the second year of the National Eucharistic Revival, which will include the 10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 21-24, 2024.
Deacon John Brannen of Pax Christi Catholic Church admitted he was “kind of jealous” of the Asbury renewal, wondering how to “make this happen in our church.”
Reynolds told OSV News that she took her children to her parish’s adoration chapel immediately after their first visit to Asbury.
“We had a huge conversation with the kids about how Catholics can experience the Eucharist 24 hours a day,” she said. “We are having revival constantly (in the Eucharist), but no one’s going, and (Jesus) is there waiting.”
Father Fischer said the Asbury revival challenges parishes to leave their ministerial comfort zones.
“I think there is truly a way to tie this to the Eucharistic Revival, but there’s got to be a willingness to be open to the Holy Spirit, who can say, ‘I don’t want to be finished at 8 p.m.,'” said Father Fischer. “Can your church handle that? Is it willing?”
Deacon Brannen said he was.
“I’m glad some of our faithful have attended Asbury,” he told OSV News. “Maybe they’ll bring it back, and maybe that’s been the Holy Spirit’s plan all along. … If people fully understood what was going on (in the Eucharist), we would have another Asbury.”
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.