What we can learn from the Revival of 1858?

A piece on four churches in Wilmington, N.C. celebrating their sesquicentennial this year calls attention to why all four celebrate the same founding year, 1858. The previous year, banks had made some bad investments, railroad companies were drowning in debt, and the stock market was sliding at a pace that kept investors queasy. A shipment of gold destined to help bail out the banks sank during a hurricane, and the economic depression that resulted from the Panic of 1857 lasted three years. The crisis caused people to turn to God, according to one scholar:

“The Panic of 1857 sent everyone into a tailspin of economic downturn and a national depression, and everyone went back to church,” said Walt Conser, professor of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He devoted part of a chapter in his book, Coat of Many Colors, to the Revival. “By 1858, there was an economic upturn where building churches was possible again,” he said. (Churches weren’t the only major structures being built in Wilmington in 1858. Thlian Hall is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year as well.)

But the answer to the 1858 church building boom also involved socioeconomic and political pressures from the impending racial divisions in the country. And many times, churches split as a result of those conflicts, Conser said.

Though these churches had their beginnings in 1858, only a few years of ministry took place in those buildings before the Civil War and the yellow fever epidemic temporarily disrupted worship services, he added.

Some history of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, one of the four churches featured, is also included with the article, here.

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