The History of the Brunk Tent Revivals Part 1 – The Story

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Revival movements in history have been catalysts of movement and change in the church. What lessons can we learn from the most recent one in North America?
In 1951 an unusual phenomenon burst “like a meteorite” 1 across the Mennonite Church of North America. That was the Brunk Tent Revival campaign begun by evangelist George R. Brunk, Jr. and his younger brother Lawrence. They were the sons of the prolific writer George R. Brunk, Sr., editor of the Sword and Trumpet. George Jr. was born on Nov. 18, 1911 in Denbigh, VA. At the time of his birth his parents wrote that they “…..hope and pray that he may grow up to be a man of God who shall be used to turn many from the error of the world to the Kingdom of Heaven.” 2 George grew up there in Virginia and was ordained to the ministry on July 22, 1934 at the age of 22 years old.
One day George and his younger brother Lawrence were coming home from concluding a tent campaign in Richmond. Their hearts throbbed with a newly awakened zeal as they talked about the revival and their strong desire for the saving of lost souls. The seed had been planted that would grow into a national revival.
George & Lawrence met from time to time and discussed the burden that was burning on their hearts. Lawrence wondered if he could find an evangelist to go with him if purchased the tent and trailer and equipment. As Lawrence stood in the middle of his flock of 5,000 chickens one day, he prayed and asked the Lord that if He would give him as much as $5,000 profit, he would give it all for a tent and equipment for evangelism. By 1951, Lawrence was surprised bountifully by not only $5,000 profit, but the astounding sum of $35,000.3 With that money a truck was purchased as well as a tent for 1,000 people and some needed equipment. Before that tent even shipped from the factory, a second one with 2,500 seating capacity had been placed on order.
Meanwhile at the East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a special series of prayer meetings were under way. Good Friday, 1951 was set aside as a special day of fasting and prayer. There, it was decided to have special prayer meetings once a month besides their regular prayer meetings. They prayed for revival and for lost souls.
This resulted in an invitation being given to George & Lawrence Brunk to come to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to conduct a series of tent revival meetings with George as the evangelist and Lawrence as the song leader & business manager.
The first service was held on June 3, 1951 in the 2,500 capacity tent across the street from the East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church. Nearly 2,000 people showed up for that first night! Sometime later on the 1,000 capacity tent was also erected, but soon that was still not enough. After five weeks, the tents were moved adjacent to the old Lancaster Airport. They continued there till the closing night on July 22, 7 weeks later. An estimated 15,000 people attended on the final night.
Local resident Irene Deiter remembers that first crusade. She said that George started right off challenging the sleeping Lancaster community with, “The people in Lancaster County keep their fence rows trimmed and trained better than they keep their children trimmed and trained.” She remarked, “When I heard him say that, I knew he was going to preach the Word—and he did.”4
More than 1,500 people signed decision cards. Thousands more were affected through these meetings. This evidence was demonstrated by Mennonite farmers who plowed up their fields of tobacco. Others threw cigarettes, pipes, whiskey, playing cards, jewelry, and other items which they felt had been a hindrance to their lives into an offering rack that George marked as “Offering to Baal.”5
Writing in the Gospel Herald, Maurice Lehman wrote, “The Evangelist preached against sin for many nights at the beginning of the revival. This preaching brought conviction of hidden sin of the flesh and spirit. Many church members confessed sin and ‘got right’ with God. Brother George Brunk made the statement that this is a cleanup program as well as an evangelistic campaign.… We who have witnessed this great revival can say we will long remember it as one of the greatest events in our day.”6
George & Lawrence credited the incredible success of their first campaign to prayer. Prayer services were held daily by large groups of Christians that met early in the morning to pray before the day’s activities began. These were held daily from May 21 through July 22. Maurice Lehman, pastor of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, said, “We believe that it was prayer that brought the revival; and it will take prayer to continue it.”7
The next call came from the Franconia Conference in nearby Souderton, PA. Again, just as before, thousands showed up. Here a 6,000 capacity tent was added to accommodate the large crowds of people. Lawrence named the three tents Faith, Hope, & Charity.
In the Franconia Conference there had been for years a gang of young Mennonite boys who delighted in reckless driving and various daring stunts, to the dismay of their of their fellow churches and community. They were called the “Franconia Cowboys”. This group was remarkably converted at the Brunk tent meetings and became greatly involved in church work. They became known instead as the “Franconia Christian Workers”.8
The third campaign was at Orrville, Ohio. It was after this campaign the Christian Layman’s Tent Evangelism (CLTE) organization began. They sponsored the campaigns of Howard Hammer and Myron Augsburger. The campaign here lasted for 4 weeks.
From there the Brunk campaign travelled back to Pennsylvania. That winter they went to Florida. From there they crisscrossed across the United States and even up into Canada. They usually operated by consent or request from an existing Mennonite congregation. However, by 1952 they were beginning to partner with Non-Mennonite churches for evangelization.
In 1953, George and Lawrence parted ways following a campaign in Albany, Oregon. Lawrence had been slowly becoming more “Pentecostal” especially regarding the work of the Holy Spirit being actively manifested in the converts from the campaign. This level of emotionalism and charismatic emphasis was unacceptable to George and the two brothers were forced to separate.
By the mid-1950s the glimmer of the tent revivals had begun to fade. They continued to taper off until they finally concluded in a week-long revival in Landisville, PA in the summer of 1982, 31 years after they began. The next day the tent, fixtures, and supplies of the Brunk Revivals, Inc. were sold at auction.
In part 2, we will take a closer look at the Brunk revivals, including its effects on the Mennonite church of its day and some lessons for us today.

Mennonites in American Society, by Paul Toews
Revival Fires, by Katie Florence Shank
Mennonite Life, “A Revival In Our Day”, July 1952
All Praise Be to the Lord: Memories of George R. Brunk II, by Rhoda Weber Neer Brunk
Mennonite Life, “A Revival In Our Day”, July 1952
Gospel Herald, “The Lancaster Revival”, Sept. 4, 1951
Mennonite Life, “A Revival In Our Day”, July 1952