A United Worship team seeks to bring diverse musical worship styles to Bethel’s campus, starting with chapel and Vespers services.
By Sarah Bakeman | Managing Editor
When Rayven Davis went to her first Vespers service as a freshman at Bethel University, she made a promise to herself.
Never again, will I ever go back.
And it wasn’t because she didn’t like music. Growing up in Detroit, her grandfather had been the pastor at St. Peter’s Church, and she would often sing during services. When her dad eventually took over the Senior Pastor position, a then 14-year-old Davis began leading worship, recording in the studio and performing outside the church. Music had been a large part of Davis’s upbringing.
But at Bethel, the music wasn’t the same.
In the move to college, Davis traded familiar gospel artists such as Tasha Cobbs and Kierra Sheard for Elevation Worship and Brandon Lake — things so familiar to her peers yet so foreign to herself.
“I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel comfortable worshiping here. Nobody looked like me,” Davis said. “I didn’t feel like they were worshiping the same God as me, because I didn’t think He could hear me when I sounded like that.”
As she grew more familiar with campus, Davis met four other students from Detroit, who had all experienced that same feeling: an inability to see themselves in the music. During her sophomore year, Davis decided to join a United Worship team and began singing at Vespers. She was bringing her sound to Bethel while returning to a piece of her own faith.
“If I had to come from a different place and make myself comfortable with the way that you guys worship, then why not try to integrate how I worship?” Davis said.
Now a junior, Davis is a United Worship team leader alongside fellow junior Sam Carlson, who plays keyboard during their services. The two run the weekly Monday night practices, where they prepare their fellow musicians for a monthly Vespers service and shorter worship sets at chapel. On the weeks when Davis and Carlson’s eight-person team isn’t playing for Vespers, the three other student-led United Worship teams rotate.
During rehearsal, Carlson and Davis practice in a rhythm. As the team files into the old Lakeside Center library for the 8 p.m. meeting, printer-fresh papers are prepped with chords and lyrics. They’ll talk over their weeks and pray over their plans for the service, before adjusting microphones and straightening out papers on music stands.
Guitarist Isaac Kubas and bassist Hailey DuPrée strum strings and turn dials to prep their instruments. Carlson sounds out rhythms to drummer Sophia Kriz that he believes could work with a new song. Davis brushes up on some harmonies with fellow vocalists Kristiánna Marks, Ajah Walker and Joshie Williams.
“All tribes and tongues are around the throne worshiping the Lamb… One day, all cultures will be united together, and our worship today should reflect that.” – Sam Carlson, junior pianist
Beyond weekly practice, Carlson and Davis share a vision for their year as leaders.
“One Scripture passage that we read as a team was in Revelation 5, and it says all tribes and tongues are around the throne worshiping the Lamb,” Carlson said. “At the heart, worshiping God isn’t just about the culture that we come from. One day, all cultures will be united together, and our worship today should reflect that.”
This wish for all worship styles to be together was something Davis brought up back when she interviewed for her position. And as the school year kicked off with Bethel’s annual Koinonia service at the end of August, this feeling was reciprocated by other United Worship members. Sophomore vocalist Natalia Felgetelli invited students to sing a song with her in Spanish during worship.
“That wasn’t necessarily comfortable for me because I don’t speak Spanish,” Davis said. “But it still felt great, and I felt the Holy Spirit just from colliding our worship styles together and worshiping the same God together but in different tongues.”
Carlson believes worship at Bethel should represent the makeup of the student body. In their first service, the team played “Gratitude” by Brandon Lake, but added call and response and syncopated hits, which are signature to the gospel sound.
After that service, people outside of the Bethel community took notice of Carlson and Davis’s team. Gospel artist Jovonta Patton, a five-time Billboard-topping recording artist on various charts, composer and producer, got in touch with the Vespers team through Bethel’s former Worship Associate, Hilary Ritchie. Patton requested they play at his pop-up church entitled “The Wave.”
Despite busy college schedules, the musicians plan to pursue the partnership soon. Beyond their graduation date, Davis and Carlson hope that this movement towards diverse worship will continue.
“What I’m doing right now is for the future,” Davis said. “It is for what is to come after me. It’s us starting to dig a hole, and hopefully the people after us will keep digging deeper.”
Davis and Carlson’s United Worship team will have their next service on Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. in Benson Great Hall.