When people speak of a revival in Durham these days, they're typically referring to chic restaurants opening in long-abandoned storefronts, startup culture, and luxury apartment buildings making dents in the sky.
But a different kind of revival—one you're unlikely to have heard about on Twitter—is currently underway: an old-fashioned tent revival. On a patch of land at the corner of Dillard and Holloway streets, Evangelize Durham, a coalition of thirty-one mostly black local churches, has erected a large white tent and crammed about five hundred folding chairs underneath it. Every evening for the entire month of August, a different pastor is leading a service. Every day, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Evangelize Durham is doing community outreach: a clothing drive, food distribution, and workshops on topics like domestic abuse, substance abuse, and HIV screening.
"It's inspired by a similar revival that happened in [the public housing area] Few Gardens back in 1992," says Pastor Earnest Williams, of Durham's Joshua Generation Fellowship. "All us pastors coming together, we're taking a stand against the violence that's happening here in Durham, spreading the gospel of Jesus. It's a citywide thing."
And beyond: churches from Cary, Greensboro, Fayetteville, and Henderson are also participating. On Monday evening, a week into the festivities, a female preacher was warming up a crowd of about seventy-five before the 7 p.m. service. ("We were over capacity for the Sunday night service," says Tierra Bullock, an organizer. "People kept flowing in from off the street.") The preacher paced the stage as the faithful nodded their heads to her words and occasionally waved their arms in the air.
"Some of us are tired, Father God," she prayed. "Some of us are exhausted, Father God. Declare your love, Father God. Declare your reign, Father God. Tonight we know the power of unity, Father God. Teach us how to evangelize, Father God. We pray for those not underneath this tent, Father God."
Just outside the tent, a generator hummed, powering two food trucks: Tootie's Mobile Kitchen and a shaved-ice proprietor without a discernible name. A band from the Wings of Eagles Christian Church, led by a middle-aged woman in a red blouse, black pants, and black sneakers, took the stage and started in on a rousing number. Three young girls in matching black t-shirts with the word RISE on them danced athletically up front, their backs to the stage.
"We're taking this city back," the singer said as the song soared to its conclusion. "We're not gonna lose any more ground here in Durham."