Tent revivals have long been a part of American religious life, as traveling ministers set up shop in open fields and welcomed all comers to hear the word of the Lord.

The events were particularly popular in the 1800s, both as a form of entertainment for isolated rural residents and as a means to attract new congregants. Even as recently as the 1950s, the Rev. Billy Graham was preaching to crowds that sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands.

That isn’t what’s been taking place in Lewiston, though, at the Awaken the Dawn tent on the grounds of Echo Hills Church.

About 100 people were inside the tent Sunday morning, for the church’s regular Sunday service. Beyond that, Pastor Jeph Chavez said typically only a few dozen people have been in the tent at any one time.

“It probably averages around 10,” Chavez said. “I was here (Saturday) night and there were about 38 people.”

The tent has been open around the clock since Wednesday, and will remain open until Tuesday evening. It’s part of a 100-day procession of Awaken the Dawn events that will take place in communities across the country.

Initial reports that the “tent revival” could attract upward of 500 to 1,000 people prompted concerns for some community members, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, Chavez said it was never intended to be a mass gathering of people.

“We agreed to host a-worship-and-prayer event,” he said.

In fact, an old-time tent revival runs counter to his approach to the ministry.

“When I think of how to pastor to people, I’m not looking for one-time events or performances,” Chavez said. “I look at how to have a conversation, how to meet people where they’re at. With Jesus, it always comes back to having that personal relationship. I’d rather sit down at someone’s kitchen table than host a (one-time) event with 1,000 people. The long-term effects will be greater.”

The Awaken the Dawn tent will stay open until Tuesday at 6 p.m. A sign at the entrance encourages people to respect the views of other worshipers, and to observe proper social distancing protocols.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208)791-9168.

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