Freshmen flock to inspirational gathering
Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Never before Tuesday evening had so many Grand Canyon University freshmen streamed together from the northwest corner of campus to one of its focal points on the southern boundary. It was a welcome sight after months of planning, construction and preparations for the 2015-16 academic year.
After two exhaustingly hot days of moving their belongings into four new residence halls in The Grove, thousands of students took a break from unpacking, meeting new people and getting acclimated to their new homes to worship Jesus and, in some cases, to learn more about Him while grooving to live music.
Once inside GCU Arena, the estimated 3,000 students stood for 45 minutes as members of one of the University’s three talented Chapel bands played a nine-song set that had most singing along, many waving their arms in praise, a few kneeling on the floor and one spinning a multicolored flag.
Julia Janet, a pre-med freshman from Albuquerque, received the flag with a yellow beam in the center for her high school graduation, a replacement for one she gave to a new Christian to whom Janet’s witness made all the difference. Janet, a resident of Juniper Hall, keeps the flag in her purse always.
“I don’t like worshipping without it — it’s how I feel closer to God,” she said.
Drawing nearer to God
That feeling is nurtured at GCU from new student orientation to graduation four years later, said Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin, who led the sight-to-behold Ignite ceremony on the Quad outside the Arena right after the worship. From one flame, fire was spread to thousands of candles held, then raised heavenward, by students across the lawn.
Created two years ago, Ignite is a solemn commissioning of the incoming class. It’s a way for GCU to “encourage and inspire students to realize they are beginning a brand new chapter in their lives,” Griffin said. They are to let their lights shine brightly, he said, as it says in Matthew 5:14-16, which students read aloud:
“You are the light of the world. You cannot hide a city that is on a mountain. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. They put it on a table so it gives light to all in the house. Let your light shine in front of men. Then they will see the good things you do and will honor your Father who is in heaven.”
Throughout their time at GCU, students continually are reminded that faith, worship, ministry and service are part and parcel of University culture, Griffin said.
“That culture is central to what we want to develop this year,” said Griffin, noting that by the end of this week nearly 8,500 students will have been moved onto campus. Many come from Christian homes, but some incoming students at the rapidly growing University do not.
On Tuesday in the Arena, the eight-member worship band, led by junior Josh James, performed songs that were familiar to many in the audience. The music started with “Alive” by Hillsong Young & Free and ended with “This I Believe (The Creed)” by Hillsong Worship, then was followed by a reciting of the Apostle’s Creed, the Christian statement of faith.
James also read from Isaiah 53, which foretells Jesus’ suffering: “He took on Himself our troubles and carried our sorrows. Yet we thought of Him as being punished and hurt by God, and made to suffer. But He was hurt for our wrongdoing. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so we would have peace. He was beaten so we would be healed. All of us like sheep have gone the wrong way. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has put on Him the sin of us all.”
The worship service was a first for freshman Rickson Parmeggiani, of Cupertino, Calif., who said he is Jewish. “It was awesome that they brought everyone together to meet new people,” said the Canyon Hall resident, who is majoring in entrepreneurial studies and government.
Creating opportunities for Christian camaraderie among students is one of the four pillars on which the University was founded in 1949. Those opportunities include a weekly Chapel service for students and employees Monday mornings in the Arena and a less formal worship service, The Gathering, Tuesday evenings in Antelope Gym.
Shaye Higa is looking forward to each. An athletic training freshman from Honolulu, Higa joined Parmeggiani and other new friends at the worship service and Ignite. He described the evening as “very touching.”
“The fire that they have for God here is like no other, and that makes me want to jump right in,” he said.
Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.