Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Travis Neely
GCU News Bureau
Far from home, trying to find your way. Looking to be part of a community. What’s better than being with like-minded people who share the same passion for God?
That was the scenario for Isaiah Dorn and, no doubt, many other freshmen Wednesday night when Grand Canyon University staged its annual New Student Worship Night and Ignite ceremony.
The estimated crowd of 5,000 stood and often sang along for nearly an hour as the Worship Team, composed entirely of students, showed its professional-quality skill amid nine songs that got hearts pumping, hands clapping and feet jumping.
They then went outside for Ignite, a tradition whereby the students light candles to signify the start of the new academic year. For the second consecutive year, the weather didn’t cooperate – occasional gusts of wind made it difficult to keep the candles lit as lightning from a distant thunderstorm illuminated the eastern sky – but cell phone flashlights were the ready solution.
When it was over, Dorn talked about what the last three days have been like for him and what this event meant to him. He is from Minnesota and admitted that the transition has been “kind of a struggle.”
“I’m a freshman, I’m just coming in, I’m a long way from home – it hasn’t been easy,” he said. “Tonight was a huge encouragement. Worship like this fills me up.”
Especially worship that is performed so well.
“I wasn’t expecting that caliber of worship,” he said. “That was my best experience (at GCU) thus far.”
Noah Wolfe knows what that feels like. Three years ago, he was feeling a lot of the same things. Now he’s the president of the Associated Students of GCU (ASGCU) and said the closing prayer at the end of the Ignite ceremony.
Afterward, as other students came up to him to talk, he remembered where Ignite ranked on his list of Welcome Week experiences.
“It’s the one I remember the most, by far,” he said. “There are a few other memories, but for the most part this one stands out in my mind a lot.”
Wednesday night also figures to stand out a lot in the minds of this year’s freshmen. They were as into it as the Worship Team, and it showed in the turnout (the new GCU Engage app helped) and the passion.
“Tonight went better, I think, from a worship standpoint and Ignite than we’ve ever done before, which is exciting,” Wolfe said. “It was cool to see that many freshmen in there already.”
The music was led by the six Worship Team leaders — Harrison Russell, Katie Brown, Brooklyn Peterson, Chandler Jennings, Roxy Farcas and Luke Robinson — and was a mix of Hillsong, Elevation Worship and Housefires.
The performance began with Russell, one of the artists on the new Canyon Worship 2018 album, sharing how he felt when he first arrived at GCU from his home in Arkansas.
The freshmen in the crowd, who filled the lower bowl of GCU Arena as well as the floor seating, sang along to “Jesus, Jesus You make the darkness tremble.”
They clapped in unison to “Unstoppable God.”
They jumped in unison to “This is living now.”
When they went outside for Ignite, Pastor and Dean of Students Dr. Tim Griffin gave a short talk in which he urged them to consider what got them to this point in their lives.
“We are a community of people – God’s people,” he said.
Afterward, the reactions to the ceremony were consistent.
“We’ve been to concerts here with Christian artists, but we hadn’t experienced anything like that,” said Hailey Binns.
“I really liked this event the best out of all the Welcome Week events,” said Sofie Humphrey, who has attended the weekly student worship service called The Gathering. “Personally, I like worship, so it was really good.”
The large crowd was consistent with the huge turnout for the Out-of-State Student Social on Wednesday afternoon, and Wolfe attributed it to GCU Engage.
“It’s keeping the energy levels incredibly high,” he said. “When people can’t see what’s going on, the energy level sort of dies down. But this just keeps feeding fuel to the fire.”
And the fire most definitely was blazing at Ignite – a sign of the mood on campus all week.
“The energy levels are high, higher than I expected or anticipated,” Wolfe said. “People are excited. We’re excited. I’m excited.”
Even when they’re far away from home.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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