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New book on American Holy Fairs by Kimberly B. Long



Decatur, GA. Sacramental occasions, or "Holy Fairs," practiced by Scots-Irish Presbyterians in mid-19th-century America were intended to bring conversion to nonbelievers and spiritual renewal to baptized Christians. In The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fairs, released this month by Westminster John Knox Press, Kimberly Bracken Long examines the chief texts of American revivalism-sermons, devotional writings, and catechetical materials-to gain insights into the sacramental theology at work in these events, as well as into the nature of revivalism in the American Presbyterian context. She also explores several implications for 21st-century Reformed and Presbyterian worship. 

"These 'Holy Fairs' took the form of outdoor revivals that lasted for several days," says Dr. Long. "Held annually between May and November, they included services of preparation, preaching and exhorting, and private mediation. The week culminated in a communion service on Sunday and ended with a Monday thanksgiving service, after which people traveled back to their homes. Once thought to be a quintessentially American phenomenon, the camp meeting has its origins in the sacramental revivals of Ulster and the Scottish Lowlands.

"In my research, I found the significant-and somewhat surprising-use of language from the Song of Songs, as well as other biblical marital imagery, to describe the believer's union with Christ in communion. By considering how certain medieval writers used spousal and sexual metaphors to describe the believer's relationship with Christ, examining Calvin's understanding of mystical union, and comparing the American sources with their Scottish antecedents, I argue that the American sacramental occasions exhibited a Eucharistic theology that was solidly Reformed yet included a mystical strain, expressed within the context of frontier revivalism."

Dr. Long is assistant professor of worship and coordinator of worship resources for congregations at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is the author of The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship, also published by Westminster John Knox.

Columbia Theological Seminary, located in Decatur, GA, was established in 1828 and is one of 10 theological institutions of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The seminary offers seven graduate degree programs: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts (Theological Studies), Master of Arts in Practical Theology, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Educational Ministry, and Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling. Currently 421 students are enrolled, representing 30 denominations, 34 states, and 10 countries. For more information, visit   

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