Norcross church hopes to bring the Asbury spirit to Georgia on Sunday

‘It’s not a denominational thing. It’s not a political thing. It’s a God thing,’

The Rev. Eddie Bradford hopes to bring the spiritual fire lit by students at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, to his Norcross church, nearly 400 miles away, on Sunday.

The “Asbury revival” has attracted thousands of people, particularly Generation Z youths, over the course of 16 days to praise God and rejoice in fellowship.

“We’ve invited the community to come be a part of what we are calling ‘Bring the Fire Home,’ ” said Bradford, who has served as pastor of Norcross First United Methodist Church for about seven years. ”We want to see about getting that same message to North Georgia that the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit can move in miraculous ways inside and outside the church.”

The Norcross event starts at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Norcross UMC, 2500 Beaver Ruin Road. Participants include the University of Georgia Wesley Worship Team and students from Ashley University who will pray and share their experiences.

Earlier this month, at the end of a regular chapel service at Asbury University in central Kentucky, several students stayed behind. What happened next grew into what some describe as a spontaneous revival drawing thousands — largely young Christians — to the small town of Wilmore, which has a population of about 6,000 people and sits about 30 miles south of Lexington.

A spokeswoman for the university, which was founded in 1890, said unofficial estimates put the number of people who attended over 16 days between 60,000 and 70,000.

As word spread quickly on social media, word-of-mouth and through text messages, people flocked to Wilmore.

College, seminary and high school students. Their parents. Pastors. And many of the people who fill the pews every Sunday.

People sang, confessed, repented and cried. Some prayed with their arms stretched up to the sky. Others fell to their knees or hugged one another.

They lined up for hours before it began and stayed until early in the morning. When it outgrew the first chapel, additional space was made available at nearby Asbury Theological Seminary.

Similar events spread to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, both Christian institutions.

“God is on the move! Now is our time,” reads a flyer advertising the event at Norcross First UMC, whose sanctuary holds about 1,800 people.

“It’s not a denominational thing. It’s not a political thing. It’s a God thing,” Bradford said. He said the event grew out of discussions with several other pastors in Georgia.

Among Sunday’s speakers will be Katherine Reiley, 22, of San Antonio, and a first-year student at Asbury Theological Seminary.

Reiley said she was in her introduction to the Old Testament class when she saw a Facebook post of people in Hughes Auditorium. Other students in the class started getting text messages about what was going on.

“We were almost literally running from our class to Hughes Auditorium,” she said in a telephone interview. “I felt giddy, honestly. There was lots of excitement and a feeling of disbelief.”

“It was exciting to think that God was doing something,” she said. She ended up attending every day or volunteering on the prayer team or as a greeter.

“In a world that feels harsh and difficult, God is calm and gentle and sweet.”

Whether you call it a revival, a prayer gathering, an awakening or an “outpouring,” people who attended said it was life-changing in many ways.

It was larger than another similar gathering at Asbury in 1970 that many said coincided with the evangelical Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Rev. Martha Simmons, a former adjunct professor at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and creator of the African American Lectionary, is waiting to see what happens next.

As a Christian, she said, she gets excited whenever a “group of believers say that they have had the Holy Spirit fall on them. ... That’s amazing.”

However, “the other side of it for me is looking historically at the instances where white institutions and white churches have a great awakening of sorts,” she said.

“As I studied those, my questions began — as a person of color — what did the Holy Spirit make you do for justice after It fell on you?”

News coverage of the Asbury revival has reported a slightly more diverse crowd than the mostly white student body.

More encouraging for the faithful are the number of young people showing up. In recent years, reports have indicated millennials and Gen Z are less likely to go to church or have religious affiliations.

Bennett Ellison, from Newnan, is a student at Asbury Theological Seminary.

“I was reintroduced to the gentleness, tenderness and sweetness of Jesus,” said Ellison, 25, who doesn’t call it a revival but an “outpouring of God’s Spirit.” Ellison said people of various denominations were there, including Catholics, Baptists and Methodists.