Students convened at Yahweh Night to celebrate underrepresented forms of worship on Grounds

Students explore, showcase diverse forms of Christian worship

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Frequently, audience members danced, sang, clapped and prayed aloud along with the performers. All members of the University community were welcome. Isabel Galgano | Cavalier Daily

When thinking about a church service, long rows of pews and lengthy sermons may come to mind. However, at Yahweh Ministries’ Yahweh Night event, students explored diverse forms of Chrisitan worship through community, dance, song and spoken word. About 100 people came together to celebrate Yahweh, meaning “God” in Hebrew, Friday night at Eunoia, a Christian event space located on Jefferson Park Avenue.

Fourth-year College students Temi Akinola and Ezinne Ogbonna founded Yahweh Night three years ago in response to limited forms of Christian worship on Grounds. Akinola wanted a space to recognize cultural heritage.

“My Nigerian culture has always been such a prominent part of my life,” Akinola said. “I think coming here it has been hard to celebrate that in ways that I would want to within the Christian community. I think that Yahweh night for me has been very freeing because it's given me the opportunity to be unapologetically both ... Christian and Nigerian.”

According to Akinola, she and her co-founder, Ogbonna, found a shared passion for worship songs and dances they learned from their families and communities. The two students wanted to create a space for sharing their faith and styles of worship. One night, Akinola and Ogbonna decided to organize a larger scale event. 

“We just randomly started dancing and singing to songs we had grown up listening to in churches and with our communities and with our families,” Akinola said. “It was just very fun and very freeing. And we were like, why don't we turn this into an actual thing that we do? And so Yahweh Night became a space where we wanted to highlight underrepresented styles of worship on Grounds.”

The students started Yahweh Ministries as a contracted independent organization whose main goal is to host Yahweh Night at the University. Ogbonna felt inspired by other women in her community to move forward with the organization.

“There were definitely lots of powerful black women before us that inspired us and moved us to really be open to who God created us to be and the different cultures we use to worship,” Ogbonna said. 

The CIO is young and growing. As its founding members prepare to graduate in the next year, they hope to expand Yahweh Ministries under new leadership and organization. 

“I want to make space for other people to lead and for them to find what God has for them in this organization,” Ogbonna said. “And because this is something that's smaller and niche we're still figuring out the organization.”

Attendees and participants in the event found a space of diverse worship styles and comradery. Fourth-year Commerce student Ahenfua Aboagye-Nyame saw the night as a rare opportunity and was inspired to get more involved. 

“Nights like these where I get to worship in this way are few and far between, so I take advantage of every opportunity,” Aboagye-Nyame said. “I’m hoping next semester I will be able to perform some songs in my native tongue.”

Fourth-year College student Michelle Abban is a member of Yahweh Ministries and a choreographer for Yahweh Night. After growing up in a Ghanaian church, she brought her love of praise dance to Yahweh Night and learned to get out of her comfort zone with new kinds of worship. 

“God transcends culture, and you're always accepted,” Abban said. “It's really fun to be uncomfortable and to learn about people's cultures and to really value the people that you say that you value.”

Yahweh Night included worship through song, dance, prayer and spoken word forms like rap and poetry. Student musicians performed with guitars, pianos, drums and saxophones, while others sang in many languages ranging from English to Spanish to Igbo, the national language of Nigeria. All of the performances were led by students. 

Attendees were encouraged to participate in nearly every aspect of the evening. Lyrics were displayed for each song on a projector, and members of Yahweh Ministries taught the pronunciations of foreign lyrics before performing. Frequently, audience members danced, sang, clapped and prayed aloud along with the performers. All members of the University community were welcome.

“We want to have spaces for the people who have been underrepresented, but also, as a learning experience for the broader community too,” Akinola said. “We highly encourage people who grew up in predominantly white spaces to come and learn and see what it's like in a different environment … We want this to be something that everyone enjoys.”

In its third year, Yahweh Night has also evolved to include aspects from more diverse Christian backgrounds. The night included aspects of Carribbean culture and dances and songs with Latinx influences. 

“Before, Yahweh Night used to {feature] solely music inspired by the African diaspora, but how Latin praise and worship came about was one person who had been coming to Yahweh night said, 'I don't see Latin worship on Grounds. Is there any way that we could do something together?’ and that's how it started,” Akinola said. “So it really is just knowing people, knowing friends, asking people.”

Friends and fellow Christians came to support performers and find new experiences through worship. 

“The people who run worship night are some of my closest friends, so I wanted to support them,” Aboagye-Nyame said. “I also am fully in support of the mission of the night and wanted to experience different forms of worship since there aren't many opportunities on Grounds.”

Ultimately, Abban said that Yahweh Night is a space of free expression, learning and acceptance. 

“[Different forms of worship are] valid and meant to reach all people, different people, the same people, and that's okay,” Abban said. “It's just becoming this blend of everything. I can listen to any type of praise at any point and that represents who I am. But I should not feel limited to one or limited to a language that I understand.”

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