A Definition

I want to define how I will be using the phrase “The Burned Over district” for future articles.  The original definition is from the book “The Burned-Over District by Whitney Cross.”  He defined it as the area of western New York during the period of 1800 to 1850.  It was first coined by Charles Grandison Finney to describe the tendency for radical religious fervor in this area.  It has been used since then to refer to the geographical region of Western New York in reference to negative spiritual matters.  This later definition is the one I will be using.

Burned History

I thought that I would begin my writing on the burned-over district with my own personal history of how I got interested in the topic. It all started when I was doing research into the amount of Satanism and witchcraft in the public schools in our area. I was doing youth ministry at the time and took my findings to my pastor to see what he thought. It seemed that we had a little higher instance of witchcraft in our schools than what was reported in other areas of the United States. He said to me that he wasn’t surprised by what I found. He said that a lot of Spiritual junk had come from this part of the United States, and that maybe their was some kind of stronghold in this area. He listed a few things at that time, like the Spiritualist movement, militant feminism, the Mormons, the new age movement, and the seven nations of the genesee. This is not a complete list of what we talked about at the time but it gives you an idea of what caught my attention. I remember wondering what was so special about this area that we had so much negative spiritual junk in our small area of western NY. At this point I just filed it all away for future reference.

It was a couple of years later that I was talking to a young man who was a practicing warlock that this all came back to me. During our conversation he made a statement that caught my attention. He said that in new age circles western NY is listed as one of the top five spots in the world to come if you wanted to channel spiritual energy. In fact he said that most people who want to go on a spiritual “vision quest” go to the pyramids, Stonehenge, and western NY. I remember thinking WOW, my pastor recognized that their was something spiritually weird about this area and now I find out that the new age community recognizes something is spiritually weird about this area. Again at that time of my life I was not in any possition to do much more than wonder and file it away as very odd.

The next piece of the puzzle came when i started as a pastor, We had a speaker come to our church that specialized in the subject of revivals. During his sermons he mentioned that western NY is one of the hardest places to minister in the United States. He pointed out that most major ministries wont come to this area. And that when they do come they get their smallest attendance. As an example he mentioned a mens ministry that gets around 50,000 men anywhere else in the US but only had 3000 show up when they came to buffalo. He also used a term that I had never heard before. “The Burned Over District”. This caught my attention, and began my research. I have begun to compile that research and want to ask the question, “how does this effect ministry in this area” I will be writing more soon please feel free to comment and ask questions, I will try to answer them in future articles.