Students' passion for God flares in a rush at Ignite

Students were passionately part of Ignite Worship Night on Tuesday in GCU Arena.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

They’ve been on campus for only a week and a half, but the 9,000 students in Grand Canyon University’s record freshman class already have created another first.

Attendees rushed the stage, turning it into what Jared Ulrich, Worship Life Manager, called "the most electric and passionate and inspiring night of Ignite that we've had."

The category: Times the stage has been rushed at Ignite Worship Night.

The record: 1.

It had never happened before. Ever.

But there they were Tuesday night, turning the floor of GCU Arena into a scene not unlike the mosh pit that made Silent Disco such a distinctive part of Welcome Week (view more images from the event here).

This time, though, they were worshipping God through the music of the Worship team. And were they ever into it.

“I got to experience this last year when I toured, and I was super excited for this event,” said Heidi Swenson, a business major from Lakeville, Minnesota. “I think it’s the most goose-bump experience you can get.

The emotion of the experience brought some students to their knees.

“You can feel the presence of God and the Holy Spirit. You can see it in the people around you, and it really motivates you to keep going to church, reading the Bible, things like that, because you see everyone else is doing it.”

Her friend Ellie Ramseth, an early education major from Thousand Oaks, California, agreed. Ignite did exactly what it was designed to do – fire up the students’ faith.

“I had chills the whole time because of the energy in this room,” she said. “I was up there (in the stands above the floor), so I could see all the students down here. It was amazing.”

Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor, addresses the crowd.

It became even more amazing for her when she joined the group in front of the stage. But amazed doesn’t begin to describe the feelings of event organizers as they watched the hourlong worship service unfold. They’re rushing the stage? Are you kidding?

“I’ve been asking our long-term staff if they had ever seen anything quite like that, and none of us have,” said Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen the stage rushed, and I’ve seen 12 of these. It was awesome.

Students raise the flashlights on their cellphones in the traditional moment of worship at Ignite.

“They were completely engaged in the music. It was so fun – so fun to see. I get a ringside seat up here to see what’s going on. I can see their faces. I can see their eyes, the level of genuineness that there is in the worship and their expressions around the music. I’m kind of at a loss for words.”

Jared Ulrich, Worship Manager for the Office of Spiritual Life, was similarly tongue-tied.

“Unbelievable. That’s the only word I can think of. Wow,” he said. “I don’t want to knock past ones, but by far this was the most electric and passionate and inspiring night of Ignite that we’ve had thus far.”

The music of the Worship team moved Amanda Riffe (left) so much, she felt compelled to kneel.

The event, previously held during Welcome Week but moved this year to the first day of classes, has evolved from a candlelight ceremony outside in the Quad to an indoor celebration of God. In the signature moment, everyone raises their cellphones, flashlights turned on, to symbolize their commitment to furthering their faith.

Watching the candles get lit, one by one, until they covered the Quad was a beautiful sight, but the passion of the 4,798 students in the Arena was even more jaw-dropping.

None of it would have been possible, of course, without the music of the 2021-22 Worship team.

Madison Russell was one of the soloists during Ignite.

The freshmen got to see why vocalists Amanda Riffe and Madison Russell are stars of Canyon Worship 2021, the album produced by Worship Arts students. The other worship leaders were Logan Haas, Bella Rea, Caden Tonkinson and Edwin Lopez

Also on the team were Travis Fritz and MacGregor Young on keyboard, Tim Remy and Brock Bell on guitar, and Brandon Cruse on drums. Joseph Vaught, an April 2021 graduate and also a Canyon Worship artist, filled in admirably on bass guitar as a last-minute replacement for a student who is injured.

Students were full participants throughout the one-hour service.

The students in attendance applauded to “I’ll never be more loved than I am right now.”

They sang along with just about every song, including “I’m not here for blessings. Jesus, you don’t owe me anything.”

They cheered for “Hell lost another one. I am free.”

During a short break before the last song to announce the 2021-22 activities in Spiritual Life, Griffin told the audience, “Can you imagine what this is going to be like when all the rest of the students show up?”

Members of the Worship team also had their hands up.

That would be Monday, when the first Chapel of the fall semester, with GCU President Brian Mueller as the featured speaker, figures to fill the Arena to the brim.

Students have two other opportunities for worship beginning next week: The Gathering, at 7 p.m. Tuesdays in Antelope Gymnasium (Griffin will be the speaker at the first one), and a new event, The Sanctuary, at 7 p.m. Thursdays in Sunset Auditorium (the church building at 31st Avenue and Camelback Road).

The Sanctuary, which got positive reviews after a tryout last spring, is a more reflective service.

The crowd of 4,798 filled the seats on the floor and most of the lower bowl of the Arena.

“There has been over the years a group of students who are always looking for something a little quieter, more reflective, more liturgical in nature,” Griffin said. “It will be an experience built on Bible study and then quiet, reflective prayer. We thought we should build something that serves students who are looking for that quiet time together.”

The variety in Spiritual Life is the kind of thing that drew freshmen to GCU. Ramseth was sold when she saw the culture during a visit at the start of her junior year in high school.

“As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew I was going to go here,” she said. “The community, the people here – I just could see myself here. I looked at other schools, but I only applied here.”

And now that all these freshmen are finally here, they’re going to go big.

“You never know what kind of community culture a new student population is going to bring with them,” Griffin said. “I think after the last couple years, students just feel unleashed to finally express themselves, and they enjoy being in community and enjoy worshipping together.”

And rushing the stage. Better keep the record book handy – these freshmen are fully Ignited.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Campus returns to full schedule of worship services

GCU Today: The music of Canyon Worship is all grown up

GCU Today: Like her brother, Russell stars on Canyon Worship

GCU Today: Vaught's Canyon Worship 2021 song makes waves


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But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. (Romans 6:17)

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