At around 10:50 on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, our three-times-a-week morning chapel at Asbury University ended as it often does, with an invitation for students to spend a few minutes with God at the altar before continuing to their classes or other activities.

What began with about a dozen students and the gospel choir lingering in worship and prayer extended to a 16-day spiritual event. It spread beyond our university community and then Kentucky’s borders to attract people from all over the world to our campus of just under 2,000 students in a small town with only two stoplights.

In the months following what many have dubbed “The Asbury Outpouring,” a colleague, Lisa Weaver-Swartz, and I interviewed students, faculty and staff to capture the varied stories from the Asbury community. We will forever be grateful for all who trusted us with their perspectives on such a multifaceted event.

While we can certainly categorize shared themes between these stories, every person had a distinctly unique experience. For that reason, I cannot presume to essentialize an “Asbury Outpouring Experience,” nor can I audaciously speak on behalf of the university.

What I can do is offer some ways I have been stewarding my own experiences of, and beyond, the outpouring through the lenses of my unique standpoint at Asbury.

I serve as the director of the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE), overseeing all of Asbury University’s academic support services. I am also an affiliate member of the sociology faculty, teaching courses on inequalities in society as well as sociological theory.

Further, I am an alumnus of the university with a deep appreciation for my time as an Asbury student. Before entering the academy, I spent 12 years as a pastor overseeing various aspects of children’s and family ministries at churches in the U.S. and Canada.

In the first few days of the outpouring, I felt like a parent working in the background at my kid’s birthday party, focused on helping the students continue experiencing what they were experiencing. Since we never canceled classes during those 16 days, I offered some flexibility with attendance, allowing space for students to linger in Hughes Auditorium for worship and prayer.

I even stayed in Hughes overnight the first Sunday into Monday as the Asbury staff person responsible for the space so that students and others could continue to pray and sing through the night.

As more people showed up, I found myself shifting into more of a pastoral role, as a safe person students could retreat to and talk to as they began to feel overwhelmed. Many students felt as though their home was being taken over by the thousands of visitors to the auditorium.

My staff spread the word that students could come to hang out in the CAE space on the bottom floor of the library if they needed a quiet space away from the crowds. While now, a year later, we have returned to being primarily a place where students receive academic support services, some still come in when they need a brief retreat from the residence halls or their classes.

One of the ways the outpouring has changed me stems from one of the interview groups Lisa and I conducted with students. While many students had tangible encounters with God during the outpouring, there were some whose experiences were not so positive.

In this particular interview, one of the students expressed that they no longer identified as Christian and had hoped to have an experience similar to those of some of their friends during the outpouring, in hopes of rekindling their faith. Nothing had happened for them — no experience, no feelings, no euphoria. Holding back tears while sharing this with the group, the student concluded that what had gone on was not for them; they really weren’t Christian. That moment has refused to let go of me.

More than anything else, the outpouring has highlighted for me that the students under my supervision and teaching have a deep hunger for a real connection to something bigger than themselves. Considering what they’ve seen of the church, they do not know whether it is possible to hold on to their faith and still care deeply about confronting the injustices and inequities they see around them.

After hearing the students’ stories, Paul’s statement “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NRSV) took on a deeply personal significance for me. As a sociology professor in a Christian liberal arts university and as someone who cares deeply about confronting injustices and inequities in the world, I am called to be for my students what Paul was called to be for the readers of his letter to the people of Corinth: an explicit example of a committed disciple of Christ.

A year after those events, it is still challenging for me to distill the ways in which our community — and I — have been affected. In one sense, our campus has irrevocably changed. In another sense, we are still who we are: a Christian liberal arts university whose mission is to cultivate academic excellence and spiritual vitality.

The overwhelming sense among university leadership is that what happened last February was not about Asbury University. It was about the students who were desperately seeking to connect with something beyond themselves — something personal, something real, something to offer them hope in a broken and disconnected world.

God answered that yearning by showing up unexpectedly and extraordinarily. We don’t take what happened for granted; we simply continue to share our stories about what God did and is doing when people ask.