There's still plenty of life in campus spirituality

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Monday would have been the last Chapel of the 2019-20 academic year at Grand Canyon University.

Monday night would have been the final Songwriters Showcase for Worship Arts students.

Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students, speaks during the online Chapel video released Monday morning.

Both were canceled weeks ago. And yet, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has halted all group activities on campus, the spiritual connections are still very much alive.

To coincide with what would have been Chapel hour Monday morning, the Spiritual Life staff released a video (above) that features music by the Worship team and a short talk by Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students.

He thanked all the people who made Chapel and The Gathering happen every week and also offered what he hopes will be “a bit of encouragement for current and prospective students.”

Griffin read from Matthew 6:25, in which Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you — you of little faith?”

Worship team members Chandler Jennings (left), Brooklyn Peterson and Chandler Kruse performed two songs for the online Chapel.

Griffin also quoted from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” in which the author paraphrases what Scripture is telling us:

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. … Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come when the time comes.”

The Worship team’s performances of “King of Kings” and “Living Hope” were led by three of its leaders, senior Brooklyn Peterson and juniors Chandler Jennings and Chandler Kruse. David Sorensen, Technical Coordinator for Spiritual Life, filmed and edited the audio and video and put it together in a short time.

Spiritual Life has been posting devotionals on its Instagram page, @gcuworship. Jared Ulrich, Spiritual Life Worship Manager, called the response “really good” and said the devotionals will continue to be daily for at least another week.

“I think people are settling down and getting used to the ‘new normal,’” he said.

Many of the Worship Arts students, meanwhile, have stayed busy in two ways. They had to complete their vocals before leaving campus – or, in some cases, remotely – if they have a song on the Canyon Worship 2020 album, and several remained on campus because they have internships in the local church community.

The Songwriters Showcase was one of the many campus events that had to be canceled because of the pandemic.

Eric Johnson, Manager of the GCU Recording Studio, has had a small team of student workers alternating at the facility, and he has encouraged them to stay in touch with their peers through social media. It goes hand in hand with what many churches are doing.

“I think there’s a real heart to connect over this,” he said. “The churches I’ve seen are increasing the content they’re putting out over the streams. Some are putting out daily content. Their business is connecting with people. Even our Worship Arts students are on that journey where they’re looking for ways to keep connected.”

Students doing internships in local churches saw it firsthand when worship services went online.

“At first, it felt a little like, ‘What do we do?’” said senior Amanda Hauck, a youth worship leader at Living Streams Church in Phoenix who also has been a member of the Worship team at GCU. “But it was cool to watch the staff members of my church come together and problem solve and come up with this beautiful product.”

Amanda Hauck has continued to work at Living Streams Church, which, like many churches, has switched to online services.

Her church’s leaders also started making encouraging videos, and Hauck was so inspired by the relational-based activity, she delivered some toilet paper to the home of a member of her youth group.

“My favorite part of what I get to do,” she said, “is the people I get to work with. They inspire me to be a better leader, and they’re very wise and kind.”

Carter Ruch has had a similar experience at Relentless Church – PHX, where he has been Director of Worship since his sophomore year. His church also has striven to make the online services as meaningful as being there in person.

“The biggest thing that affected us was we had four or five baptisms lined up in April,” he said.

Ruch said the quick transition of ground classes to an online learning environment has “gone very easily. Honestly, sometimes it’s even more helpful because people ask even more questions – they can just ask a question in a chat.”

Dr. Randall Downs, Worship Arts Coordinator for the College of Theology, said the transition from ground to online classes has gone seamlessly.

Dr. Randall Downs, Worship Arts Coordinator for the College of Theology, agreed that the transition online has gone seamlessly. Even in the weekly Worship Summit, students simply watch videos and respond digitally.

He said student artists who had been chosen to perform in Songwriters Showcase on Monday can resubmit their work for the next Showcase, scheduled for December.

“The one thing I’ve noticed in the students is the positive in a rough situation,” Downs said. “I’ve told them this is an opportunity to minister to people who are hurting and fearful. They’ve taken it fairly well. I’ve been impressed.”

That positive attitude is evident in both Hauck and Ruch as they contemplate the bizarre end to their college years. They’re sad, but they have it in perspective.

“I’ve always been super bad at saying goodbye to things,” Hauck said. “I was looking forward to the rest of the school year, the last Showcase, the last few Gatherings, even Commencement because I didn’t get to go to my high school commencement. I was like, ‘Man, I’m bummed, all this stuff I wanted.’

“But everyone’s being impacted by this in different ways and it’s hard for everyone. At the end of the day and as much as I was looking forward to it, these things are man-made ceremonies and they’re not bigger than our God. I still have my memories.”

Ruch said he definitely plans to come back for Commencement, whenever it takes place. Asked how he thinks he’ll look back at this experience years from now, he said, “I think I’ll look back at it and just kinda laugh. It’s kind of funny that the whole school shut down. I’ve had a good four years here – what’s one half-semester?”

Griffin had people like Hauck and Ruch in mind when he said in the video, “For those of you that are seniors and you have come to the end of your academic journey at GCU, this is not the way you wanted to see it end. You had a different vision for the last semester of your senior year. We are as heartbroken as you are with the way things have turned out.

“In the next weeks and months, your mind will begin to shift away from the disappointment to, ‘All right, God, what’s next?’”

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


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