Story by Alan Brads and Maggie Fipps
Photos by Logan Howard
At 8 p.m. sharp Monday, President Dr. Thomas White takes the stage in front of over 1,000 students curious to see how the night would take shape.
“We have no idea what we’re doing tonight,” White said. “That’s a good thing because otherwise nothing would happen. It’s up to the Lord tonight.”
Ten hours before this moment, White took the same stage to open Cedarville University’s Monday morning chapel, a typical student body meeting, and the only one scheduled for the day. The DMC chapel was fraught with nervous energy, as students with protest signs sat near the front. Due to recent campus events, the Cedarville Interpreter – an Instagram page critical of the university – had organized a walkout to support sexual assault victims. Fifteen to 20 students wearing teal sat near the front, preparing to protest as soon as Dr. White ascended the steps. Only a few left.
White addressed the events of the past two weeks head on, encouraging students not to spread rumors in the absence of facts. Back from his travels to Fiji, it felt like a year’s worth of events had happened in his two-week absence.
Preaching quickly morphed into praying. The open altar was first approached by Dr. Andrew Harris and several students formed a prayer chain, shoulder to shoulder, around him. Soon a sea of students occupied the front of the stage, prayer and singing overtook the planned message of the morning and White suggested students stay or leave as they felt led. White also announced the second prayer meeting at 8 p.m. and invited any students who wanted to remain after chapel and worship to do so.
Chapel leaked past its end time of 10:50. The DMC clock tower struck 11 a.m., and around 200 students remained, worshiping and praying fervently.
Although outward posture varied as students sat, hugged and stood, the gathering felt like a collective kneeling before the Lord. The bell tower struck noon. Then 1. Still, students remained.
One tangible sign of the Lord’s work was the two male students who were saved.
As the gathering officially closed around 1 p.m., small groups of students stuck around, not willing to leave where the Lord was working.
By 4 p.m. a group of about 25 students still hovered around the grand piano, singing and praying. The band left hours ago, but hymnals and volunteer piano players picked up where the band left off.
Lalitha Gadde, a student and one such volunteer piano player, spent over 11 hours in the chapel, singing, praying and reading scripture, and spent more than three consecutive hours on the piano.
“My family likes to use the term ‘heaven rehearsal’ when thinking about worship events like this,” Gadde said. “So today felt like a heaven rehearsal. That’s how I’d describe it.”
Gadde emphasized her belief that this spiritual rejuvenation should bring practical change.
“We sang song after song after song about God’s holiness,” Gadde said. “We see things like gossip and slander, all these relational sins. I think the only thing that can solve all these things isn’t merely a moral change, but a recognition of who God is and who we are in relation to him.”
At no point did the chapel completely empty out before the evening brought a resurgence of students.
As the newly scheduled evening meeting approached, students trickled back into the chapel accompanied by scattered faculty, alumni, parents and campus safety officers. Students filed into the front rows, abandoning their habitual chapel seats.
White took the stage alongside Heartsong musicians, led by their assistant director, Ashlynn Robinette.
“We have no idea what we’re doing tonight,” White said. “We have 10 minutes of stuff planned. Then I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
White decided the first course of action should be prayer in small groups. Students pulled in group-less strangers to pray with them and poured out prayer requests to each other.
White turned the stage over to Robinette’s team. Thundering instruments and booming voices shook the chapel. Voices from every corner of the room shouted praise, often abandoning pitch for passion.
At 9 p.m., the scheduled end time, White asked if everyone was ready to leave and was met with a unanimous “No!” from the crowd.
Rather than tiring as the night wore on, students’ energy increased. The back rows emptied as students filed into the gap between the first row and the stage. Many jumped, shouted and lifted their hands. Others cried out on their hands and knees.
“God’s obviously working,” said Katrina Sidlo, a student in attendance that night. “I don’t know what he’s doing, and I don’t think anyone expected this, but honestly, I saw a glimpse of heaven, and that’s what brought people together.”
The night culminated with jubilation as the band played “Glorious Day” and “Great Things” as a response to crowd requests.
White closed the night down just after 10 p.m., but he again invited any students who wished to gather around the grand piano and continue singing to do so.
Music rang out through the chapel until the midnight curfew.
“I saw over 1,000 students who, from my perspective, were sincerely seeking to praise the Lord and worship him,” White said after the event. “And on a Monday night, when they don’t have to be here, that’s special.
“This was very unique. This is an unscheduled event that just kind of happened. I have never in my life seen chapel go to 1:15 in the afternoon. This is a special, unique time where God is doing something cool, I just don’t want to mess it up.”
When asked about her point of view from the stage, Robinette became overwhelmed.
“I saw repentance,” she said. “I saw people crying out to the Lord, I saw rejoicing, I saw joy, I saw peace, I saw people praying for each other, I saw the body of Christ at work.”
Robinette came to Cedarville around the same time as White and found the events just as shocking and unique as he did.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said as students crowding the piano began their own rendition of “How He Loves.”
Some say it’s a reawakening, some have called it revival, and others say it was just a special night of worship. Whatever it was, students are excited to make changes as an outpouring of their renewed love for God.
Alan Brads is a sophomore journalism student and frequent contributor for Cedars. He enjoys playing the drums and speaking Spanish, and watches Buckeye football like his life depends on it.
Maggie Fipps is a sophomore journalism student and the sports editor of Cedars. She enjoys playing the piano and thrifting, and you may spot her around campus sporting Packers gear head to toe.