SEBRING, Fla. (Christian Examiner) – Before he delivers a sermon from the 18th century, Pastor Mike Adams puts on a ruffled shirt, cravat, long-tail jacket, and top hat—and uses a horse for transportation.
Adams dresses up as Rev. James McGready (1763–1817), a prominent and fiery Presbyterian revivalist during the Second Great Awakening in America.
"I think he had a special anointing from God, and a lot of what he said back then applies to 21st-century America, particularly regarding the need for revival," Adams told Highlands Today. "I do my best to portray McGready in attire and actions."
The interim pastor at Tanglewood Community Church and a funeral director for Stephenson-Nelson Funeral Home, Adams has been portraying McGready since 1990 and appears as the historic preacher a few times a year.
According to contemporaries, McGready "was remarkably plain in his dress and manners, but very familiar, communicative, and interesting in his conversation," wrote Rev. John Andrews, a contemporary of McGready, for a foreword to a compilation of McGready's sermons. "The style of his sermons was not polished, but perspicuous and pointed; and his manner of address was unusually solemn and impressive."
Adams, 61, said, "It's like McGready has risen from the dead and he recounts his life and gives the audience the history of the 'Second Great Awakening' in an authentic sense."
Andrews said McGready excelled at "depicting the guilty and deplorable situation of impenitent sinners, and the awful consequences of their rebellion against God, without speedy repentance unto life and a living faith in the blood of sprinkling."
'SOLEMN AND IMPRESSIVE'
The modern-day McGready delivers a brief history of the Second Great Awakening, a biography of McGready, and the pastor's message on "America Needs Revival."
McGready was zealous for sharing the Gospel and even had one of his congregations sign a covenant saying they would fast every third Sunday and pray for sinners to be converted, as well as devote a half hour every Saturday night and Sunday morning to prayer for the country's revival.
In a recent event at First Presbyterian Church, Sebring, Adams spoke as McGready to a group of about 100. "It was a fresh approach to bringing about the message to the people," said Rev. Darrell Peer. "He did an excellent job in making it interesting."
The historic preacher lived and worked in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. "I heard Mr. McGready preach once," wrote Richard Beard in "Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church" in 1867.
"I have a very distinct recollection of his appearance and manner. He was not boisterous, but rather chaste, solemn, and impressive. Solemnity was most conspicuous in his manner," said Beard, adding the occasion of the sermon was McGready's brother's death.
Adams, who sometimes arrives at speaking events on horseback, is "unrecognizable" as himself when he is in costume and portrays McGready's demeanor, according to Tanglewood church member Artie Nichols.
"It was all in the way he spoke and the way he presented the message. It was really interesting and very different," Nichols said, adding their preacher's arrival in costume arrested the congregation's attention.
Adams says he will continue his historical reenactment of McGready's garb and sermons indefinitely because he shares McGready's view that America needs revival.