Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

By Jeff Finley

Asbury University student Jessie Thompson sensed a special move of God when she entered Hughes Auditorium near the start of the recent outpouring.

“Something that really confirmed it initially, just for the first time that I entered into Hughes, was walking through the doors, and there was just a wash over me,” Thompson said on a new episode of “The Light + Life Podcast” after host Brett Heintzman asked several outpouring participants what gave them a clear sense that an authentic move of God occurred. “There’s nothing I can really compare it to —just like a wave crashing down, but it was kind of this instant peace, instant emotion, instant joy that filled me. I was standing next to a friend, and I just had to grab her and hug her because I just couldn’t even express how incredible it was to walk into that space and to immediately know that the presence of Jesus was there. There was just such a sweetness to seeing that and to feeing that and to looking out and seeing a ton of my peers and seeing them joining in with praise and wanting to give all the glory to Jesus.”


“… the things that I felt like the Lord was telling me what other people were going through in that space.” – Jessie Thompson

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Thompson said the first few days following the Feb. 8 start were “really sweet and really special,” and students “felt like we had a lot of freedom to just be in that space. There really wasn’t too much urgency to get back to responsibility. … For a lot of us, we just wanted to stay, and we felt like we had that freedom to do that, and our teachers were really gracious with us.”

As days passed, Thompson prayed, “Lord, I just want some sort of more almost tangible confirmation — something in Your Word, something in Your Scripture.” She said that God “led me into a couple of places in the New Testament where I was reading, and it just really confirmed in my heart that what I was experiencing — the things that I felt like the Lord was telling me what other people were going through in that space — was true and authentic in that what we were receiving was truly from the Lord.”

As students returned to class, they had to balance the demands of their education with the desire to be in Hughes.

“We still wanted to be in that space. We still wanted to be open to what the Lord was wanting to do, but we didn’t feel like we needed to be in Hughes for that to happen anymore,” said Thompson, who added that some students ultimately decided they were going to let the Lord work in them, but “it’s going to get more personal now. It’s going to be more one on one, and it’s going to be in the quieter moments, not in the big corporate setting like it has been.”

A Sweet Spirit of Worship

Free Methodist Elder Sarah Baldwin serves as the university’s vice president of student life and dean of students. Her duties include overseeing the university’s chapel program.

When a small number of students remained after the Feb. 8 chapel service, she wasn’t immediately surprised. It’s common for some students to remain in Hughes after chapel to pray or sing.

During lunchtime that day, she received a text saying that students were still worshipping in the auditorium.

“When I first got that text, I was happy and delighted, but I wasn’t shocked or surprised,” said Baldwin, who then went to the auditorium after lunch and realized, “Oh, wow, there are quite a few students.”

She watched students increasingly join.

“There was just this sweet spirit of worship. Our gospel choir was leading. I think they led that first day nine hours straight,” she said.

She left for a meeting and returned at 3 p.m. to find approximately 150 students at Hughes and thought, “This is different.”


“… more and more students kept coming. … The word was out.” – Sarah Baldwin


Most faculty and staff canceled their meetings, Baldwin said, “and wanted to be present, and as we were, more and more students kept coming. … The word was out, and some students brought their instruments and joined in the gospel choir. Some began to share testimonies. There was prayer at the altar. There was prayer in the rows, and there was just this spirit of joy and confession and repentance — wanting more of Jesus.”

The staff began getting texts that students from state universities in Kentucky were coming, and then they received word that students were on their way from Christian colleges in other states.

“It was really hard to even take it all in, and, of course, at that point, we had no idea what was coming,” Baldwin said. “That evening, in the hallway below Hughes, there was a few of us who gathered, and we made the decision that we would leave Hughes open all night long. So I immediately started texting our team: ‘Who can be there from 12 to 2, from 2 to 4, from 4 to 6, from 6 to 8? And we just started saying yes to what we believed was an outpouring and a work of God.”

Some skeptics have questioned whether the Spirit really moved among the tens of thousands of people who ultimately came to the campus in Wilmore, Kentucky, until the university ended outpouring services with the previously scheduled Collegiate Day of Prayer service in Hughes on the evening of Feb. 23.

Baldwin, however, is certain the Spirit moved. She reflected, “From that very first day when our students began responding to the outpouring of God, it was really marked by the fruits of the Spirit. There was love joy, peace, patience, kindness…”


“It was hard to leave. … It really was clear that God was in this.” – Sarah Baldwin


Baldwin described the space as “very much marked with the Holy Spirit. It was also really marked with repentance and confession, and I was really moved by the students seeking restitution from one another. They were at the altar. They were desiring more of God, confessing sin, turning to their friends to make things right. And in the midst of all of that, there was really sweet joy like Jessie said, really almost irresistible joy and peace in the space. It was hard to leave. … It really was clear that God was in this.”

The experience in Hughes had “several waves to it, and it was like waves of the outpouring,” Baldwin said. “We were sure that God was pouring out upon our students.”

Bishops Serve and Experience

All of the current Free Methodist Church USA bishops are alumni of Asbury Theological Seminary across Lexington Avenue from the university, and they ultimately found themselves back in Wilmore during the latter days of the outpouring.

Bishop Keith and Pam Cowart were in Jerusalem, Israel, when they began seeing posts about the outpouring.

“Since both of us are Asbury Seminary grads, we took interest in it. Of course, we’ve heard of the 1970 revival and heard all the testimonies about that,” Bishop Cowart said on the podcast. “We got home on Sunday after it started on Wednesday. … We just kept following it for a day or two.”

The bishops were scheduled to meet with each other for three days the following week in Seattle, and they began discussing whether to move their meetings to Wilmore.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Pam Cowart woke up and told her husband, “I think we’re supposed to go sooner than that. … Let’s find a house. Let’s find a Vrbo [vacation rental home] and just make it available to whoever needs it.”

The Cowarts prayed and contacted people at the outpouring to determine if that was a need. They reached J.D. Walt of Seedbed who confirmed the need.

After setting up the house, they arrived on the crowded university campus and immediately met familiar people who asked them to serve on the prayer team. They first served in Estes Chapel on the seminary campus that was one of several locations hosting a simulcast for the many people who couldn’t fit into Hughes.


“People’s hearts were so soft and so responsive to the Holy Spirit.” – Bishop Keith Cowart


“Some people just walked in the back door and went straight to the altar,” Bishop Cowart said. “People’s hearts were so soft and so responsive to the Holy Spirit. That was the thing that really stood out to us immediately. There was an environment here where the Holy Spirit is moving, and people are responding, and it was beautiful — a beautiful thing to witness.”

Bishop Linda Adams spoke Feb. 15 in Spring Arbor University’s chapel service at The Arbor Church.

“That’s my home church, and that’s the church where the 1970 revival spilled over and totally turned my life right side up as a 15-year-old, and so I felt like a witness from afar that I know this is real and I know that it’s going to change people’s lives forever,” Adams said “After chapel, when the altar was lined, and students were praying and we had dismissed people, a young man — a student at Spring Arbor — stood up and said, ‘Well, I understand that Asbury started off by one man confessing so I’ll go first.’ And he confessed that he was bound in the chains of pornography and couldn’t get out, and immediately about 12 other guys came to walk around him, and the chaplain was there and praying, and then it just went on, and some students were there until about 10 o’clock at night.”


“This is a revival of holiness.” – Bishop Linda Adams


Adams had to leave to travel to a Roberts Wesleyan University board meeting, but on Feb. 19, she and Bishop Matt Whitehead “flew in [to Kentucky] from our respective places, and … we walked over there [to Hughes at] nine o’clock Sunday night and thankfully somebody was able to get us in,” Adams recalled on the podcast. “We were up in the balcony that night, and my first impression was just to look down and see this sea of faces, most of them very young … and to see the purity in their faces and to sense the sincerity and authenticity of their worship like there’s an awe when you realize that God’s in the room. I saw ‘HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD’ across the front of the platform, and I just said, ‘This is a revival of holiness.’”

She expressed appreciation for “the simplicity and beauty of the worship that was not overpowered by the band or by any kind of dramatic, glitzy lighting that made it feel like an entertainment venue or a show. It was just simple people simply lifting their hearts in unison praise and worship. It was precious to see.”

As detailed plans take shape for General Conference 2023, Adams said there needs to be some freedom in case “the Spirit moves in an unusual way.” The music at Asbury reminded her of the simplicity of early Free Methodist worship.

“One way we can steward is to realize that it’s not about famous people or unusually talented people,” Adams said. “It’s about people who are just yielding to the anointing of the Spirit of God, sensitive to moving with one another and leading in a way that lets liturgy be the work of the people and doesn’t try to cram it down a certain path or a certain way.”

Click here for the full conversation on “The Light + Life Podcast.”


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.