A renewed call to noontime prayer in 2011
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20].
The Fulton Street prayer revival began in the North Dutch Reformed Church (established1628), just a few blocks from where the World Trade Center’s once stood. It grew to include Christians from a variety of denominational backgrounds and spread from one local church throughout the city, nation and into the world.
Jeremiah Calvin Lamphier (1808-1898) was hired by the consistory of the Collegiate Church as a lay missionary in connection with the North Dutch Reformed Church. A quiet, zealous forty-six-year-old businessman, he was appointed on July 1,1857. Lamphier was a tall man with a pleasant face and affectionate manner, shrewd and endowed with much tact and common sense.
Lamphier had been converted in 1842 in Broadway Tabernacle, Charles Finney’s church that was built in 1836. From his personal observations and experience, he felt it would be profitable to challenge “men engaged in active business to devote a portion of the time usually given to rest and refreshment at mid-day to devotional purposes.” So Wednesday, from noon to one o’ clock, was set aside on the third floor in the consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets (entrance from Fulton and Ann Streets) to give “merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God amid the daily perplexities incident to their respective avocations.”
Lamphier printed some handbills announcing the prayer meetings with the title, “How Often Should I Pray?” The handbill stated, “As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation; as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension, or feel the aggression of a worldly, earthly spirit. In prayer, we leave the business of time for that of eternity and intercourse with God.”
He left these in some offices and warehouses. He also put one on the door of the church on the street side.
The first meeting was held on the 23rd of September, 1857. The first person to join Lamphier was a half-hour late; several others came even later. Five denominations were represented. “Prayer and praise were offered.” The following week, twenty attended. On October 7 there were nearly forty. The meeting was so blessed that they decided to meet daily. One week later there were over one hundred present, including many unsaved who were convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin.
Within one month pastors who had attended the noon prayer meetings in Fulton Street started morning prayer meetings in their own churches. Soon the places where the meetings were held were overcrowded. Men and women, young and old of all denominations met and prayed together without distinctions. The meetings abounded with love for Christ, love for fellow Christians, love for prayer, and love of witnessing. Those in attendance felt an awesome sense of God’s presence. They prayed for specific people, expected answers, and obtained answers. A canopy of holy and awesome revival influence—in reality the presence of the Holy Spirit—seemed to hang like an invisible cloud over the prayer gathering.
The three rooms at the Fulton Street Church were filled beyond capacity, and hundreds had to go to other places. By early February a nearby Methodist Church was opened, and it immediately overflowed. The balconies were filled with ladies. By March 19 a theater opened for prayer, and half an hour before it was time to begin, people were turned away. Hundreds stood outside in the streets because they could not get inside. By the end of March over six thousand people met daily in prayer gatherings in New York City. Many churches added evening services for prayer. Soon there were 150 united prayer meetings each day across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Newspapers began to report on the meetings and the unusual spirit of prayer that was evident. Within three months similar meetings had sprung up across America. Thousands began praying in these services and in their own homes. In New York, gospel tracts were distributed to those in attendance, with instructions that they pray over the tracts and then give them to someone God brought to mind.
A journalist presents a picture of what the early meetings were like:
“The meeting is begun at twelve o’clock precisely, and it closes exactly on the hour 1 PM. The room is full and crowded, and the interest appears to increase from day to day. It began with a modest meeting held once in the week. But attendance and benefit seemed to demand the more frequent observance of the privilege: now it has become a daily service. With the pressure came a larger attendance and a more spirited service. The probability is that the meeting will be adjourned to the church. Any one comes in or goes out as he pleases. It is the rule of the place to leave at any moment. All sects are here: the formal, stately Churchman and the impulsive Methodist who cannot suppress his groan and his “amen;” the sober, substantial Dutchman and the ardent Congregationalist, with all Yankee restlessness on his face; the Baptist and the Presbyterian, joining in the same chorus and bowing at the same altar.
The agenda was simple: “the salvation of the soul.” They would pray for the “souls” of family members, neighbors, and coworkers—by name. Others would join in praying in agreement. They prayed for salvation and praised God when it happened. The absence of “oratory” (i.e., a speaker) and “argument” (theological discussion) made these meetings both unique and attractive.
Four items distinguished these prayer meetings from others:
1) Spontaneity - With the exception of a patterned beginning, the meetings generally conducted themselves. Almost everyone participated.
2) Their interdenominational nature - Leaders came from every evangelical faith: Baptists, Brethren, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Friends, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Reformed. Issues and items which distinguished them were not discussed.
3) Promptness - The meeting started promptly at noon and closed promptly at one. Prayers were held accountable to the five-minute rule.
4) Their focus on prayer - The “agenda” was prayer—prayer for salvation and for the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. No “business” was conducted.
Historians estimate that as many as one million people may have come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a result of this prayer revival.
The Prayer Meeting
The character and pattern of the Fulton Street prayer meeting was followed as it spread across the United States and beyond. Leaders were given a “bill of direction” and required to observe it strictly:
Please observe the following rules:
Be prompt, commencing precisely at twelve o’clock.
The leader is not expected to exceed ten minutes in opening the meeting.
Open the meeting by reading and singing three to five verses of a hymn.
Initiate time for collective prayer.
Read a portion of Scripture.
Say the meeting is now open for prayers and exhortations, observing particularly the rules overhead, inviting the brethren from abroad to take part in the services.
Read but one request at a time, requiring a prayer to follow. Such prayer is to have special reference to same.
In case of any suggestion or proposition by any person, say this is simply a prayer-meeting and that they are out of order and call on some brother to pray.
Give out the closing hymn five minutes before one o’clock. Request the benediction from a clergyman, if one be present.
A placard was hung on the wall in a prominent place, commanding the attention of the whole meeting.
Brethren are earnestly requested to adhere to the five-minute rule.
Prayers and exhortations are not to exceed five minutes in order to give all an opportunity.
Not more than two consecutive prayers or exhortations.
No controverted points discussed.
That churches, communities, and cities will use this noontime activity as an opportunity to gather across denominational lines to pray together.
That churches and communities will encourage businessmen and women to set aside one noontime (lunch hour) each week to pray together.
That churches in business districts will open their doors for multi-denominational noontime prayer gatherings.
That these prayer groups will prioritize prayers for the lost, for the presence of God and for the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
That major gatherings for prayer and celebration will be held in metropolitan areas.
That people will pray that God will use these activities to ignite the fire of revival.
Encourage people, churches, and denominations to pray for this celebration—that God will anoint it by his Spirit and use it to bring revival.
Use the above guides for setting up a noontime prayer meeting and training leaders.
Provide reproducible promotional materials to churches and to denominational and other ministry leaders.
Recruit additional prayer ministry partners who will endorse this vision and encourage their members’ participation.
The goal is to make this a national, multi-denominational, multi-ethnic celebration of God and tool for revival.
Encourage churches to initiate interdenominational noontime prayer meetings in their area through their businessmen and women.
In Northern Virginia, God will bring in His people. You are only responsible for you. Start up a weekly prayer meeting in your community. Do what God has called you to do and trust God to do the rest. This is a grassroots movement, which means it begins with people just like you who hear God’s call and move in faith’s obedience.
“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray” [Acts 10:9].
If anyone is interested in publishing a faith article on this web column, please contact Mark Gunderman at email@example.com .