On November 5, 2016, J.N. Andrews Honors Scholars and members of the Andrews University community gathered at the Howard Performing Arts Center (HPAC) to worship together at Honors Church. The sixth annual Honors Church service explored The Psalms, featuring reflections on Psalms 8, 23 and 121. Over 80 Honors students shared their unique talents in this program by reading the selected Psalms in a foreign language, reading a commentary or poetry related to the Psalms, singing in the Honors Choir or the praise team or playing an instrument for special music. Three professors contributed as well by presenting a reflection on one of the three selected Psalms.
Planning for Honors Church took months of planning on the part of Dr. L. Monique Pittman, Director of the J.N. Andrews Honors Program, and Alaryss Bosco, an Andrews University alumna (‘16) who served last year as a student worker for the J.N. Andrews Honors Program, as well as members of the Honors Council and J.N. Andrews Honors Scholars.
Pittman said, “Worshipping through the Psalms was a theme that came to me as an idea late last spring semester. I listen to lots of music from the English-Anglican church tradition when I’m studying, writing, and planning classes. . .while listening to some settings of the Psalms, it occurred to me that the Psalms are a much-beloved devotional portion of the Scriptures, that there are many wonderful commentaries and adaptations of the Psalms for student readers to share, and that there is a large catalogue of musical settings of the Psalms.”
Pittman, Honors Music Director Jesse Gray (sophomore, biochemistry, pre-medicine), and the Honors Council collaborated to choose three Psalms to be the themes of the service.
Pittman said, “We whittled down to Psalm 8—which for many of our scientists and humanities scholars is a crucial passage about God’s cosmos and the value of human beings, Psalm 23 because of its position as a beloved favorite, and Psalm 121 because Jonathan Doram (senior, music education) had the idea to end the service with Alicia Dent (sophomore, music) and the Honors Choir singing ‘My Help.’”
The Honors Choir, led by Jonathan Doram, performed two pieces, “Psalm 23” and “My Help,” to conclude the last two sections of the program. For “Psalm 23,” the choir lined up at the back of the HPAC with candles in their hands. They sang “Psalm 23” a cappella as they slowly walked in the dark onto the stage.
Explaining some of his artistic choices for the Choir’s performance of “Psalm 23,” Doram said, “Since the choir sang about walking ‘through the valley of the shadow of death,’ I wanted their surroundings to mimic that—so we placed the HPAC in near darkness. For me, the candles symbolized the light of God's love that one can carry through even the darkest valley. The choir hand-holding and lights glowing at the end signify us coming together to give ‘glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’”
Dakota Hall (Master of Arts—English, first year) said, “The choir was amazingly beautiful. The candles were an excellent touch as they entered, and the effect of slowly walking to the stage was magical as audience members were provided the opportunity to hear each member’s lovely voice as they walked past you.”
Many in attendance remarked on the blessings they received from listening to the choir bring the Psalms to music.
Maxine Umana, administrative assistant for J.N. Andrews Honors Program, said, “It was not until the special music provided by the Nova Quartet and the Honors Choir that I realized how talented these students are. I was truly moved by the music to the point that it had me reflect on my own relationship with God. What I appreciate about the program is that it challenges its students to think intellectually outside the box. That is exactly what this church service did.”
This example of the church service’s aim to encourage students to apply their critical thinking skills to all aspects of their lives, including spirituality, was shown by the inclusion of three reflections on the Psalms by faculty members.
Pittman said, “I wanted the service especially to highlight our core Honors value—the integration of academic excellence with spiritual commitment. This lead to the idea of having three scholars and Honors faculty provide reflections on the chosen Psalms related to their respective specialties—Dr. Tiffany Summerscales, Dr. Karl Bailey, and Dr. Erhard Gallos all kindly agreed to do that!”
Dr. Tiffany Summerscales, Professor of Physics, applied her physics discipline and knowledge of the cosmos to speak about Psalm 8 and the relationship between God and human beings. Dr. Karl Bailey, Director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program and Professor of Psychology, explored the nature of the Loving Shepherd and Psalm 23. Dr. Erhard Gallos, Assistant Professor of Religion, presented the applicability of Psalm 121 to our lives today.
Pittman said of the service, “I loved every minute of the service, but I think it culminated so gloriously in ‘My Help’ and in the congregational singing of ‘Great is thy Faithfulness.’ My heart was so full by the end of the service. I’m constantly in awe of the wonderful people in our Honors faith and learning community. Each participant brought his or her whole mind and heart to the service.”
Ingrid Radulescu (sophomore, English) said, “It was such a blessing to be a part of it and to watch from the audience. During the program I was beaming with pride to see my fellow scholars on the stage leading an amazing worship service. Honors Church was an amazing worship experience.”