Written by: Lizbeth Rodriguez-Diep
MERGE Worship is a student-led and student-focused worship service that reflects the various multicultural demographics represented on Southern’s campus.
MERGE takes place every Saturday at 11:45 a.m. in Lynn Wood Chapel and is live on YouTube. The worship experience is spearheaded by Pastor Reginald Horton and his wife, LaShawn, who is a nursing professor at Southern.
Horton said divine inspiration led to the gospel-style worship service on campus for students that came from an Afrocentric background. After much prayer and the formulation of a diverse leadership team, Horton pitched the idea to Vice President for Student Development Dennis Negrón. Horton said Negrón’s response was, “This is divine.”
After receiving the green light, MERGE occurred once a month, which later turned into two weeks a month and then transitioned into what it is now — every week that school is in session.
Horton’s vision for MERGE was always to be student-led and student-focused with the purpose to train students and provide them with opportunities, an aspect of community and a way to experience God. That means speakers, musicians, vocalists, greeters and photographers are all students.
Horton said what makes MERGE Worship a unique environment is the gospel style music. The musical goal is, “offering a modern worship style encouraging an authentic and expressive freedom to worship, while highlighting African-American gospel music as the primary musical genre.”
According to MERGE Worship’s website, this style of music can be described as spiritual text brought to life through various rhythms that speak about being in communion with God.
Michaela Lewin, alumna class of 2020, has supported MERGE Worship from its beginning stages by attending, leading worship and consulting for MERGE Media.
“We are on our feet, we clap our hands, we raise our hands,” Lewin said. “[This is] the place where I could worship my Jesus freely and just be me with no judgment.”
MERGE Worship is not culturally exclusive, and junior biochemistry major Sahyii Lozano, who is of Colombian and Mexican descent, attests to that. She said she originally thought MERGE was primarily for Black culture. But as she got acquainted and joined the worship team, she realized that it was not exclusive, but rather very inclusive.
“I know it sounds so cliché, but it’s actually like a family,” Lozano said. “We all feel the same thing when we are singing, and it just connects you.”
Lewin emphasized the importance of diversity in MERGE Worship.
“We emphasize diversity because we want it to be a place where Southern students can come regardless if they are Black or not,” Lewin said. “Everybody that is leading is united on that front. The more people of different races that we take in, the more people we can expose our culture to in a healthy way.”
Both Lewin and Lozano said they find community and their preferred style of worship in MERGE. They said they think everyone should experience God at MERGE at least once while at Southern.
Horton noted one student’s experience at MERGE.
“A student came to me and said that they were struggling with suicidal ideations and that it wasn’t until they came to MERGE where things began to change for them,” Horton said.
Horton said he hopes MERGE can impact people’s relationship with God.
“If you don’t have a relationship with God, I want MERGE to spark it,” Horton said. “If you do have one, I hope it strengthens through the experience at MERGE.”