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Lanphier was a 48-year-old businessman who began work as an urban missionary for the North Dutch Reformed Church in July, 1857. Two days after Lanphier's prayer meeting began, the Bank of Pennsylvania failed in Philadelphia, sending shock waves through America's financial community. In a few days' time, enough people were attending Lanphier's meetings that it began to meet daily.

On October 10 the New York stock market crashed, putting many stockbrokers and clerks out of work, and shutting down businesses everywhere. Many people went into bankruptcy, the panic shattered the previous complacency. Soon the crowds attending the Fulton Street laymen's gathering overflowed into the nearby John Street Methodist Church. Within six months 10,000 people were gathering daily for prayer in numerous places throughout New York.

In a short time the New York Times reported that the nationally known pastor, Dr. Henry Ward Beecher, was leading 3,000 people in devotions at Burton’s Theater. Once while he was reading Scripture, Beecher was interrupted by singing from an overflow prayer meeting crowd in an adjoining barroom! He then led the group in thanksgiving that such a thing could happen.

Other major cities also developed prayer meetings. The form of worship was always the same: any person might pray, give a testimony or an exhortation, or lead in singing as he or she “felt led.” Although pastors such as Beecher often attended and lent their enthusiastic support, laypeople provided the leadership.

What impressed observers, and the press, was that there was no fanaticism, hysteria, or objectionable behavior, only a moving impulse to pray. Little preaching was done. As the people gathered they were largely silent; there was a great overarching attitude of glorifying God.

The historian J. Edwin Orr wrote:

“. . .the influence of the awakening was felt everywhere in the nation. It first captured great cities, but it also spread through every town and village and country hamlet. It swamped schools and colleges. It affected all classes without respect to condition . . . It seemed to many that the fruits of Pentecost had been repeated a thousand-fold . . . the number of conversions reported soon reached the total of fifty thousand weekly . . .”

Spiritual Awakenings in North America: Christian History, Issue 23, (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, Inc.) 1997

 

 
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