R.S. Gjerde kneeled beside a trunk in his dorm room with four other students praying for their school. In the winter of 1907, Gjerde couldn't have known that this small act was part of a school-wide revival that started a tradition at Hillcrest Academy that lives on today.
In the winter of 1907 the Lutheran Brethren Bible School experienced an intense revival. Dormitory caretakers kneeled beside beds of dorm students who complained of physical sickness, and students were walking the next day following prayers of repentance and praise. In the wake of this student-wide movement, the school canceled classes and instituted a day of prayer. Teachers were overcome with what many called a movement of the Spirit of God. A founder of the school was bedridden for days as he processed a renewal in what is documented as his understanding of salvation in Jesus Christ alone, through faith alone, by the grace of God alone.
It’s in this shadow that students have continued to meet at Hillcrest Academy, the high school department of Lutheran Brethren Schools, in an annual prayer day. Hillcrest has carried on the tradition of a day devoted to prayer, meeting nearly twice every year for a time of refocus through prayer and confession. Each year the prayer day looks different, but they all hold a tying root back to that first prayer day in 1907.
At Hillcrest’s most recent Prayer Day, held October 31 and November 1, students started with a time of singing, art student Sylvia Venberg painted a rendition of creation as pictured in the book of Genesis. Lutheran Brethren President Paul Larson gave a homily, along with Associate Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Brethren Church, Dale Hexum. Interspersed in the time of teaching were times of discussion and prayer, with students evenly divided into groups of grade, ethnicity, and gender.
Day two the students focused on the fall, with teaching from First Church of the Nazarene Pastor Clay Mitchell and Professor Amanda Davison. Sylvia Venberg's painting from the day before was marred by art student Leonora Tuvin, to show the injustice of the fall on creation and mankind. Students were shocked to see the art presentation, a picture of mountains beautifully painted destroyed with a few swipes of a paint brush. In their small groups students processed the impact of brokenness, speaking to how they can identify and address self-centeredness in the student body.
Some groups experienced scenes similar to that of Gjerde in 1907. One group closed a prayer time with a huddle, tears being wiped from their eyes as they closed in prayer. The staff member gingerly walked to a group of colleagues to say her group was emotional after praying for a few students who are questioning their faith, struggling to understand the Bible. She said the students were praying for God to intervene, eerily similar to the prayers that started the Prayer Day tradition in 1907.
As students closed the day a group of nearly 40 students gathered in the middle of the gym to continue their time of prayer. With staff and teachers in an inservice meeting, the students put a capstone on Prayer Day, expecting to see more movement in their student body similar to the changes the class of 1908 saw begin in the winter of 1907.