The Voice: Spring 2002

The Voice

Students plan their own worship service on campus

Rochelle Senti, along with her husband, Mitch, is considering work with Youth with a Mission in India next year
By Sally Jongsma

Rochelle Senti is a gifted musician, a soprano soloist who sings in concert choir and a violist who plays in the chamber orchestra. She loves the classical repertoire, and she also loves contemporary praise songs. As her work study job, Senti coordinates and plans GIFT (Growing in Faith Together), a student-led worship service held on campus twice per month and usually attended by over 600 students.

“GIFT began three years ago to provide an opportunity for students used to contemporary worship styles in their home churches to worship in a way that wasn’t readily available in local churches,” says Senti. Today it retains its expressive praise character but it has also changed, she says.

“I’ve gotten more requests to sing hymns recently,” she says. Students have told her they’d like to have meatier messages in the services. Senti takes these suggestions seriously.

“There are so many different ways to worship,” she says. People come from many backgrounds and experiences; instruments come in many shapes and sounds. She wants to incorporate the breadth of this diversity into campus communal worship.

But she also knows that planning worship is more than throwing diverse elements together. That’s why she was so appreciative of the workshop for Dordt worship leaders led by Dr. John Witvliet in late January.

“What we learned was very practical and expanded my understanding of what goes into worship,” Senti says. She found particularly helpful Witvliet’s conclusion that worship planners should help participants meet God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father is almighty, transcendent, and creator of all. Christ the Son came to earth as Savior, friend, and encourager. God the Holy Spirit lives and moves within us.

“Praise and worship tends to focus more on the second and third aspects of God’s character,” Senti says, noting, “Maybe that’s why we’re seeing more blended worship—we’re realizing we need to respond to all aspects of God’s nature.”

Senti believes that the majority of Dordt students want a balance in worship style.    

“Many like to attend a church where there’s an organ and choir as well as contemporary praise songs and a variety of instruments,” she says. Some students will seek out more liturgically traditional worship services but also attend GIFT. Others, she acknowledges, feel that a contemporary worship style is the only way they can worship. And others still do not feel at all comfortable with the more expressive style they find at GIFT.

“I see GIFT as one of the spiritual activities available to Dordt students,” says Senti. “Students need to worship in congregations with people of all ages, but this is good too.”

Senti believes that what she and others learned in the worship workshop will bring some changes to GIFT services, but it reaffirmed her view that worship can take many different forms.

Whatever the style, worship needs to follow basic principles, she says. Among other considerations, songs chosen must say what we believe and they need to be interesting for people to sing and musicians to play. She acknowledges that some contemporary songs are simple and repetitive and that hymns often have more depth, but feels that praise songs have a valuable place.

“What draws me to praise and worship songs is often their simplicity. They give me time to reflect on a single thought and do it while I’m singing. They also allow singers and musicians at many levels of ability to participate. So many kids today play guitar. These songs are easy to learn and can be sung anywhere.

“Kids love to sing—GIFT gives a great opportunity for that. But it is not as though GIFT is the only important time of the week. It is important to have a concentrated time of praise, but it is also important to me to enjoy and work hard at my studies,” she says. “That’s worship too.”