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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Revival meetings

A revival meeting is an event organised by Christian evangelists with the purpose of inspiring people to convert to Christianity. It is most common in American Protestant churches.

In 1801 Presbyterians and Methodists joined together at Cane Ridge in Kentucky to hold a 'camp meeting' whereby believers spread across the mid west trekked days before setting up camp to hear a series of circuit preachers expound the Gospel.

So popular was this gathering that similar camp meetings were held throughout the century and when word spread that a religious meeting was to be held, both believers and non believers would attend, (the latter being glad of a break in routine and hearing the Gospel many would consequently be converted.)

1839 Methodist camp Meeting

In similar vein, evangelists such as Charles Finney, who pioneered the altar call, held evangelistic campaigns in urban settings. They emphasized the idea of a personal encounter with God, which appealed to the democratic ideals of the 19th century American.

In 1860, five years after his conversion in Chicago, Dwight L. Moody became a lay preacher and evangelist working among the wild and depraved young men of the city. Eleven years later, Dwight Moody met the powerful gospel singer Ira D. Sankey at an International Sunday School Convention in Indianapolis, with whom he soon began to cooperate.

Moody and Sankey began to collaborate and they held evangelistic campaigns both in America and Britain. Moody and Sankey collected together a selection of hymns for their revivalist meetings, which they published in a sixpenny pamphlet Sacred Songs and Solos. This collection sold by the bucketload and proved uniquely suitable for evangelistic campaigns in both America and Britain at which people flocked  to hear Sankey sing and Moody preach.

Crowds at a Moody and Sankey revival meeting

The format of the meetings with Sankey acting as song leader and singing while accompanying himself on an chapel-like organ became a template for many evangelists in the 20th Century including Dr. Billy Graham. Moody's evangelistic innovations were in large part systematic recreations of techniques from the 1857-58 Great Awakening, refined through years of practice preaching to the down and outs in Chicago.

Billy Sunday was a gifted professional baseball player with the Chicago White Stockings when, in the summer of 1886 after leaving a bar, he and his friends came upon a street preacher. Inspired, Sunday soon dried up and converted, leaving his life of vice behind him. He also became a passionate advocate for the faith. At YMCAs across the nation, Sunday drew enormous crowds who clamored to hear the famous baseball player recall his faith journey.

Sunday preaching by George Bellows, Metropolitan Magazine, May 1915. By BPL

As the 19th century went on dynamic "hell-fire and brimstone" preachers came to the fore, preaching to their congregations with mass "call and response " services.

In 1949 Billy Graham scheduled a series of revival meetings in Los Angeles, for which he erected circus tents in a parking lot. The crusade drew record crowds and after being originally scheduled for three weeks the missions proved so successful that they continued for almost two months.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Billy Graham remained a evangelist who drew the crowds with his revival meetings. In 1957, Graham planned a week-long crusade in New York City, which ultimately extended from May 15 to September 1. A total of more than two million people went to New York's Madison Square Garden to hear him preach.

Until the last quarter of the 20th century revival meetings frequently run for a week or more, especially in the Southern United States. They now tend to be of shorter duration, generally being held for a period of three or four days.

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