Church calls for sweeping prayer revival


Rev. Dwight Sullivan
UMNS Commentary

Sept. 23 marks the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Prayer Revival, an amazing religious event in U.S. history.

This massive wave of prayer swept across the nation - changing lives for Jesus Christ and reviving entire denominations.

Almost 150 years later, might this be the time for another mighty movement erupting from prayer?  

Humble beginnings

Jeremiah C. Lamphier, a layman, started the revolution because he was helping his declining church near Wall Street in New York City. Posting flyers announcing a noon prayer meeting, he prayed alone in an empty room for the first half hour.

Finally someone joined him. Before the hour was over, six had attended. It was an ordinary prayer meeting, fervent but unspectacular. Meeting the next week, 20 attended. When 40 appeared the following week, they decided to go daily.  

On Oct. 14, 1857, Wall Street experienced the Panic of 1857, one of the worst financial crises in American history. By the month’s end, another 100 people were participating in the daily prayer meeting. 

Newspaper accounts of a November spiritual revival in Ontario, Canada, spurred prayer meetings throughout America. In New York City, the prayer movement spread so that by March 1858, newspapers reported that 10,000 businessmen were meeting regularly to pray. Every available room in churches was packed at noon for prayer and at evening for services. The happening gained front-page headlines in New York newspapers. 

The fervency for prayer swept into Philadelphia and up into Boston and the Northeast.  Like a wave, the movement splashed into Chicago and the Midwest. Though it started in the North, the spirit of prayer rippled into the South. Thousands came to Christ.

Churches gained attendance.

Amazingly, it began by a layperson leading a small, obscure prayer group. It swelled into a tidal wave of prayer washing the nation, changing lives and reviving declining churches.  It sounds like a plot in some cheesy Christian film, but it really happened! 

Power of prayer

Many citizens believe the United States is going in the wrong direction. We are pelted with stories of business corruption, overcrowded prisons, sexual wrongdoings, broken families, drug use and declining churches. 

The power of the 1857 revival came from prayer. Its spark was ignited by fervent laity. Its strength came from people from many churches and backgrounds praying with one another.

Isn’t this something that “ordinary” people can do today? It doesn’t take much money to pray. You can convene prayer in your church. Anyone can invite others. You don’t have to be a bishop or have a Ph.D. to pray sincerely. 

In late May, pastors in Whittier, Calif., issued a call to convene for “A Holy Hour of Community Prayer.” A dozen pastors and laity from different denominations gathered at 9 a.m. to pray for God to move churches to work together for Jesus’ work locally.

Held at the Whittier Evangelical United Methodist Church, the meeting was permeated with music, sharing and prayer. A high point occurred when one pastor read Psalm 22 with tears and conviction because he could identify with its pain and hope. 

After the spirited, moving and bonding time together, we decided to have another community prayer on Sept. 25, around the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Prayer Revival. In a non-sectarian spirit, a local Baptist Church will host this time of prayer for God’s revival of the United States, beginning with us. 

Will you pray with us?

What if churches all over this land were to convene with other churches to pray for God’s conviction and grace through Jesus Christ in our land?

We of Whittier Evangelical United Methodist Church challenge United Methodist churches across the United States to call prayer meetings around Sept. 23. With more than 35,000 churches in The United Methodist Church, if only 10 percent respond, there would be more than 3,500 churches praying in concert for “God’s Revival!” 

Unfortunately, too many communities have weak or nonexistent ministerial fellowship organizations. Too often our churches are isolated, acting like an island unto themselves. 

What would happen if churches laid aside denominational differences to unite in prayer for each other and our nation? The Fulton Street Prayer Revival gives us a glimpse!

From our church to your church, will you pray with us?  From our community to yours, will you take the challenge to pray for your community and our nation this Sept. 23, the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Prayer Revival? 

Sullivan is pastor of Whittier (Calif.) Evangelical United Methodist Church.