More than 200 students at Auburn University were baptized Tuesday evening as a campus worship program erupted into what observers called a spontaneous revival.
The baptisms — in a small lake and illuminated by automobile headlights — took place about a half-mile from the Neville Arena site for “Unite Auburn,” an event connected to a city-wide revival taking place in Auburn, an eastern Alabama city of 75,000.
“Unite Auburn” featured Christian worship band Passion and speakers Jennie Allen, a Christian author, and the Rev. Jonathan Pokluda, lead pastor of Harris Creek Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.
An estimated 2,000 to 2,500 students crowded around the lake near the university’s “Red Barn,” where six pastors and others — including Auburn football coach Hugh Freeze — helped baptize the young adults wishing to signify a Christian commitment.
Video posted to social media shows the students cheering in approval whenever one of the students emerged from the immersion.
Auburn senior Kristen Carr, a journalism major and editor-in-chief of student newspaper The Auburn Plainsman, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times that she went to the rally “originally just as a spectator,” but decided “I just needed to start covering this and videoing because it was so unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Tonya Prewett, the wife of assistant basketball coach Chad Prewitt and the evening’s principal organizer, said the event was designed to help students struggling with the pressure of post-pandemic life on campus.
“We had stories of kids who were isolated in their closet and just feeling like they can’t cope, they can’t go on, they don’t want to live another day,” Mrs. Prewett said in a telephone interview. “And some who are bound by addictions that they think can’t seem to get free from and it’s just keeping them full of shame and isolation.”
Mrs. Prewett said she began praying in January with several students she’d been mentoring. She continued to meet and pray weekly with those students through May.
About six weeks ago, she said, plans came together for the “Unite Auburn” event, which she anticipated would end with attendees singing some worship songs.
However one student indicated an interest in getting baptized right away, and Mrs. Prewett said Ms. Allen went back on stage and made an appeal asking if anyone else wanted to be baptized. Nearly half of the 5,000 students in the arena then made their way to the water nearby.
Ms. Carr said the response on campus mirrored events in the city of Auburn, where churches such as the Auburn Community Church she attends have been packed out with revival crowds.
“It’s not just my church, it’s a lot of the churches in the area,” she said. “They’re having to live stream the services because there’s so many people that want to be at church.”
Jeremy Napier, a pastor who is chaplain for the Auburn basketball team, said “entire pledge units of fraternities [have] show up” at local churches to worship.
Ms. Carr said the spiritual awakening “is like the Billy Graham thing of our generation,” a reference to the late evangelist whose citywide meetings across the U.S. often moved large numbers of people to commit religiously to follow Christ.
Mrs. Prewett said she believes what happened at Auburn is only the beginning of a national spiritual movement.
“I do believe that God wants to heal this nation of mental health things, of the bondage that students find themselves in and just kind of the crisis is going on around our nation,” she said. “I believe that that will happen through prayer and through God moving across this nation.”
Of Tuesday’s event Mrs. Prewett said, “it started here, but it’s not going to stop here.”
One organizer told The Washington Times they’ve had calls from ten other schools asking how those campuses can hold similar events.
A similar spiritual breakout happened in February at Asbury University, a private school in Wilmore, Kentucky. There, classes shut down for two weeks as pilgrims from across the U.S. and even overseas flocked to the small town to be involved in a 24/7 prayer meeting.