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NEW IPSWICH, NH – Standing in the open air outside a large red-and-white tent on state Rep. Paul Somero’s Locke Road property in New Ipswich, Danish evangelist Torben Søndergaard pulls a blue mask out of his pocket. He’ll wear it if the situation calls for it, but most of the people at his tent revival in New Ipswich Thursday night are not wearing masks.
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When you enter the tent there are tables that offer face masks and hand sanitizer. There is ample room inside the tent for people to social distance and the tent is open to let in the cool night air while members of Søndergaard’s The Last Reformation read from the bible and preach giving the mic occasionally to others who talk about their attempts to spread the Gospel and offer prayer and healing from Jesus in New Hampshire this week. One man spoke about his day in Portsmouth during which he baptized someone he met on the street in a public fountain.
The religious tent revival has drawn hundreds of out-of-staters to New Ipswich since it started last week. News of the coming crowd caused town officials as well as officials from neighboring towns to speak out against it, saying it is a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tent revival was one of the reasons Gov. Chris Sununu issued an emergency order last week that requires face masks be worn at any scheduled gatherings of more than 100 people. Additionally, a road sign flashing a COVID-19 warnings — including “COVID RISK HIGH” — was provided by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation through the Attorney General’s office.
This reaction did not go unnoticed by participants of the tent revival, who have kept their activities to Somero’s field and, when venturing out to spread the Gospel, to New Hampshire cities, they said Thursday night.
New Ipswich police said Friday the tent revival has caused no issues in town over the past week.
An employee of New Ipswich ice cream shop Home Towne Sweets, Julia Covell of New Ipswich, said there has been an uproar about the group on Facebook on pages like the “Life in New Ipswich” but aside from that it’s been fairly quiet in town. She has noticed more state police in town this week and assumes she served a group of tent revival goers last week, adding the group was “very nice” and didn’t bother anyone.
Barbara Kalioras, the owner of Sonny’s Market in the NeWest Mall, said the out-of-staters frequented her store for a few days then disappeared.
“I think for three days we had a lot of people from out of town and a lot of them told us they were part of that group. As nice, as nice could be. They all compiled, they all had masks. Some had gloves on. Just very nice,” Kalioras said. “One guy said, ‘We’re here to preach the word of God we’re not here to spread COVID.’”
But after that it has been business as usual with only market regulars, she said.
Kalioras, who commutes to the market from Concord, said she doesn’t like the COVID road sign placed on the town line, saying it’s the kind of thing you would see in a scary movie. “I had the goosebumps and it freaked me out,” she said.
Thursday night Søndergaard said the group planned the traveling tent revival before the pandemic hit. Plans to come to New Hampshire formed when COVID-19 restrictions came into play and the Granite State had laws and mandates the tent revival would be able to comply with, he said.
“We felt God sent us here because there was more freedom. It was not to create problems. It was to avoid problems,” he said.
Over the past week, the tent revival has held evening gatherings in the field owned by Somero and has spent their days in New Hampshire seeking places to preach the Gospel in the state’s cities.
“We have gone to the bigger cities — and people have been nice — and had good conversations,” Søndergaard said. “It is not everyone who is so fearful and negative.”
Participants are being respectful by keeping a distance or wearing a mask when it’s called for by a store or the people they are talking to, he said. “If people aren’t wearing a mask we don’t wear a mask. But if we come up to people and they are wearing a mask, we wear a mask.”
Most of the out-of-state participants have come from neighboring New England states, very few locals have been attending the evening meetings, he said.
Most people attend a few nights and are there because they have seen The Last Reformation videos on YouTube and want to be baptized and or revitalize their faith, he said.
“I thought I was Christian before I was … baptized and confirmed but I did not know Christ,” he said. “We want to see the whole God,” he said, which includes healing and deliverance. “Sadly many people go to church on Sunday but they live like the rest of the world during the rest of the week.” The people who are attending are seeking “to experience Christ, life and transformation,” he said. “Many people come because they are already seeing our videos and they are seeking God. So every night there are baptisms and people come because they want to get baptized they want the Holy Spirit to come. They want to experience Christ.”
Søndergaard said he has avoided the town of New Ipswich because it has been so unfriendly. “The town is not the most welcoming town I have experienced in my life,” he said, adding he has “never experienced so little welcome.”
The “Wake Up America Big Tent Revival” began on Aug. 14 and continues through Sunday.
The Last Reformation, which preaches faith healing, has been accused of being a cult. Søndergaard fled Denmark last year with his family to seek asylum in the United States where he is now operating The Last Reformation in North Carolina.
Before coming to New Ipswich, The Last Reformation had brought its tent revival to Illinois where it was accused of violating a city mask mandate, according to coverage by the Des Plaines Patch last week.
You can watch videos of the New Ipswich tent revival nights online at https://thelastreformation.com. Sondergaard encourages people to watch these videos and the many others on his website.
While the website has several upcoming events starting in Canada next week, Søndergaard said the tent revival has nowhere to go right now because of the COVID-19 restrictions in place in so many places.
“We have many invitations but because of the whole COVID thing we want to find a state that is good and easier to work with,” he said.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.