Cody Bollweg, a student at the University of Sioux Falls, opened the night with a prayer over the crowd of 200 students.
“Lord, I pray that 26th St. would not be a wall in between us but that we could just all come together in worship,” Bollweg said.
With many hands already in the air, students from Augustana University and the University of Sioux Falls joined together in worship.
Raised voices that started in a dull roar grew to a crescendo of reverence: a celebration of individual beliefs sang as one. The crowd surged forward getting closer to the stage with every new chorus.
Student musicians on the slightly-raised stage faced the energy of the crowd and led everyone in the songs: “King of My Heart,” “Death Was Arrested” and “What a Beautiful Name.” Everyone who knew the words sang along, while those who didn’t read them off a projector.
The familiarity of the songs was not a priority to the crowd, though. People came because of a desire to express their Christian beliefs, a desire that is sometime difficult to satisfy while in college, even on a Christian campus.
10 minutes prior to the starts of Worship Night, the foyer of Sioux Fall Seminary was organized chaos. Students streamed through the doors as they were greeted by Worship Night organizers and volunteers. Friends waved at each other from across the room as Augustana and USF students became indistinguishable. It wasn’t a football game with students picking a “team.” Everyone was on the same side and held the same mission: to come together and worship.
Worship Night didn’t start with 200 students from multiple campuses. It started with just one at Augustana.
In fall 2015, Mark Christenson, then a freshman, started looking for other students he could worship with.
“When I came to Augie my freshman year, I was looking for somewhere I could gather with other students and worship in a contemporary setting,” Christenson said. “I didn’t find that here at first.”
So he took action.
Christenson and his good friend, Jesse Skidmore, got their guitars, put a few songs and a quick message together, and placed some advertisements around Solberg Hall. When the time came, they gathered in their floor’s dayroom and waited for everyone to come. That night, there was only one student in attendance: Troy Hollinsworth.
Unfazed by numbers, Christenson put together another event during J-Term in 2016.
“We talked with some other friends and ended up finding more students through Cru wanted to do a onetime worship night,” Christenson said. “So we partnered with them and held our first meeting.”
Cru was an on-campus Christian organization that ended last year. Established in 1951, Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, operates all over the world, but failed to appeal to enough students at Augustana. However, as proven by Christenson’s initiative, there was a desire from students to have a group like Cru, maybe with a different format.
Four semesters later, the event went from just being a one-time thing to a monthly event. Starting in fall 2017, the group meets twice a month in the Back Alley.
Organizers like Christenson want to see Worship Night reach others beyond Augustana. This encouraged the group to plan a combined worshipping event with USF at Sioux Falls Seminary. The two campuses rarely get together for anything other than sporting events.
Augustana junior Hope Downey is in charge of publicity for the group and is a frequent singer for Worship Night. Downey said she has seen the impact of Worship Night firsthand.
“I have [not] seen a stronger sense of fellowship and community on campus with the body of Christ,” Downey said.
Augie Worship Night isn’t exclusively for the religious. They strive to be another resource at Augustana for Christians and non-Christians alike to either grow in their faith or learn more about it.
As the combined Worship Night slowed down, Hollinsworth, the first to come to a Worship Night event and now the night’s speaker, closed the evening with another prayer and thanked everyone for coming.
Two songs later with multiple reprises of “What a Beautiful Name,” the evening came to a close.
The event’s end didn’t cause the students to leave. After the last prayer was given, the assistants stayed chatting and enjoying each others’ company in the commons of the seminary.
Students from both schools continued to stand in clusters, talking and laughing together. Christenson’s vision for his college campus had come true.
Augustana’s Worship Night is set to happen every other week on Thursdays at 8 p.m. in the Huddle.
The next combined campus event with USF is scheduled for Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. at the Sioux Falls Seminary.
There are no requirements to attend Augustana’s Worship Night. No dress codes, no expectations to be a certain kind of person or hold any specific beliefs. They just want to see students coming together to worship and learn from one another.
“We like to focus on the verse Romans 1:16: ‘For I am unashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believes’,” Christenson said. “Our goal is to live a bold faith. Ultimately, the Word can change hearts and that is what we are longing for.”