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Abiding in unity

The story of Spiritual Renewal Week

By Emily Rachelle Russell | Echo

This week, Taylor University’s Spiritual Renewal speaker Nirup Alphonse, pastor of LIFEGATE Church in Denver, preached in-depth sermons on the topic of unity in Monday and Wednesday chapels and Monday and Tuesday evening sessions.

According to Chapel Coordinator and senior Caleb Grubb, Alphonse’s series covered God’s unity within himself and Christians’ unity with the Holy Spirit, Christ and each other.

Grubb appreciates the depth Spiritual Renewal week offers on a single topic that typical chapel services can’t.

“I think it’s really great that they have one speaker really focus in on something for multiple days,” Grubb said. “This year’s chapel theme is cultivating Christian community, and this year with Nirup’s messages, he’s really focusing on starting from God and then going to . . . our unity with the Spirit, and then our unity with Christ, and then our unity with each other. So really building on a foundation. It really sets up well theologically.”

Fellow Chapel Coordinator and junior Natalie Rupp also loves Spiritual Renewal. “I think (Alphonse is) a very engaging speaker, and I think he’s on our same level,” Rupp said. “He doesn’t speak over our heads, so I really appreciated that about him — being very personal — but I also loved how he touched on some issues that are not talked about in chapel a lot.”

Students gather in Rediger Chapel to hear the message provided by speaker Nirup Alphonse

Rupp worked with Grubb and Alphonse to organize the details of the week and individual service schedules. She thinks students feel emotionally safe to worship in the services with the lights off.

Campus Pastor Jon Cavanagh, after input from several colleagues, makes the final decision in choosing each Spiritual Renewal week’s speaker. He prioritizes speakers who are good communicators with a biblical message.

Evening services differ from chapel, according to Cavanagh, offering more freedom and flexibility, and reaching students who are in a different mood and mindset outside of the rigid schedule of regular chapel structure. The altar calls of Alphonse’s services also change the way students interact with the messages compared to regular chapel or previous Spiritual Renewal weeks.

“There’s a lot of trust given to (the speaker) to kind of shape how a service might go,” Cavanagh said. “They’re going to bring in their own style of communicating . . . (It) really is a true partnership.”

Previous speakers have been diverse in cultural backgrounds, gender and age, according to Cavanagh, though he acknowledged most have been traditional white male pastors due to the pool of potential speakers available to choose from in the evangelical Midwest.

Cavanagh feels Alphonse’s difference from previous speakers in age and cultural background enabled him to connect with students in a different way. Cavanagh also hopes to bring in more female speakers, similar to Heather Larson (’96) Executive Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, who spoke at a previous Spiritual Renewal Week. A female speaker is being considered for next fall’s Spiritual Renewal.

Nirup Alphonse speaks about unity in the church, the Holy Spirit and with each other

Cavanagh supported Alphonse’s message that God is a God of everyday life and everyday decisions. College students are experiencing a period of growth and change in their lives, and not all of that experience can be pleasant.

For students who missed Spiritual Renewal chapels or evening services, videos of each service will be available soon on the Taylor University YouTube channel.

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