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Worship time warp: Evangel students explore the music of the church’s past

December 10, 2012 | Ian Richardson

Have you ever wondered what worship services sounded like before the likes of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Hillsong?

This spring, students in one class at Evangel University will be exploring the rich musical heritage of the Pentecostal church, and better yet, they will have the opportunity to be paid for it.

Worship Heritage of the Pentecostal Church is a three-credit music elective course taught by Dr. Linda Ligate and Dr. Michael Kolstad.  According to Dr. Kolstad, who is also chairman of the Department of Music, the class exposes students to the history of worship in the modern church, specifically the Pentecostal Church. The course examines several hymns and gospel songs and how they have been and remain to be used for ministry in the church.

The class was first offered in the fall of 2011, made possible by a donor passionate about the church’s worship heritage. The donor also made it possible for each student who passes with a C letter grade or higher to receive a $500 scholarship for the next semester. The class size is limited to 30 students, with selection based on a first come first served application process.

“It is a way in which any student, regardless of major, can take the class and be rewarded,” says Dr. Kolstad. “It is not often that you get paid to take a class.”

John Ashcroft

Last year, students in the class were treated to a lecture by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spoke on the power of hymns in his life and played several on the piano for the students. Ashcroft — whose father, Dr. J. Robert Ashcroft, served as the University’s second president — first learned to play the piano at Evangel.

Some students say that this scholarship was a major influence in their decisions to taking the class. “I needed to take this course as credit for my major, but the scholarship was a huge incentive,” says Matt Elenbaas, a junior worship leadership major who took the course in the spring of 2012. Although the money may have been the primary draw at first, the students began to appreciate the relevance of the material they were studying as the course progressed.

“The course material has come up in my daily life so much since I’ve taken the course,” says Amber Blaylock, a sophomore Music Education major who also took the class last spring.

Matt and Amber both say that their favorite topics were the stories of hymn writers like Horatio Spafford, who is famous for writing the hymn “It Is Well,” and accounts of important movements such as the Azusa Street Revival.

However, the most relevant takeaways from the course were not mere dates and facts. When asked about the most important thing she learned in the course, Amber says, “No matter how flawed you are, you can still be used mightily. The people that made an impact on so many others were normal people with less education than I have. They simply laid aside their pride and let God use them in whatever way He wanted.”

John Ashcroft plays a hymn for students.

John Ashcroft plays a hymn for students.

Both students also say they would highly recommend the course to other Evangel students. “It is a valuable course because it gives information on the history of the Pentecostal church,” says Matt. “It traces the development of music and how it relates to us now.”

Dr. Kolstad agrees. “It is our hope that all Evangel students take the course before they graduate. It is important that we understand our heritage and culture, especially the heritage of our worship.”

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