Vespers relocates to Iles Gym

Students crowd outside Iles P.E. Center as they prepare to enter the
building for vespers. Friday, September 8, 2023. (Photo by Andre Ottati)
Students crowd outside Iles P.E. Center as they prepare to enter the building for vespers. Friday, September 8, 2023. (Photo by Andre Ottati)

Written by: Erin Rouse

Southern Adventist University’s Friday night vespers have outgrown the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists due to the arrival of hundreds of new students. Over the past three weekends, the vespers service has been held in Iles Physical Education Center to accommodate the number of people in attendance. 

According to Southern’s Office of Ministry and Missions, there were over 1,800 students in attendance at last Friday’s vespers service, one of the largest Southern has ever held. 

Joseph Khabbaz, vice president for spiritual life, said the Office of Ministry and Missions is collaborating with the church to explore opportunities for creating additional space. 

In the meanwhile, “vespers services will continue in Iles gym as long as there is a need for additional space for students,” he said.

With the worship services now being held outside of what many consider a sacred building, some students have posed questions about levels of reverence possibly decreasing during vespers services. But some like the sanctuary for other reasons. 

Kaitlyn Kim, a senior psychology major, favors vespers in the church because she prefers the church’s cozier environment, and it’s what she’s used to. However, she doesn’t think the level of reverence should be impacted by a location change.

“If [the level of reverence] somehow does seem to change, I feel like the reason and cause of it would be a lot deeper than the location of vespers changing,” Kim said.

In fact, many students agree with the decision to move vespers services into Iles, as it caters to a more modern approach to worship, according to Zach Kirstein, vespers coordinator and senior finance major. He said using Iles as the venue could allow worship teams more creativity in how they set up seating, lighting and the stage.

“I’ve had comments from students saying that this better fits our generation,” Kirstein said. “That wasn’t the reason for the move, but it’s cool that we can now tap into those other aspects of worship that maybe the church couldn’t provide.” 

Noah Siebel, freshman business major, said he  didn’t feel any difference in the atmosphere when vespers was moved from the church, and he prefers the new atmosphere.

“Worship is worship; it doesn’t matter where,” Siebel said. 

At the first gym vespers, the worship team projected a slide which read: “Vespers is …,” and people could fill in the blank of what vespers meant to them. 

“I had hundreds and hundreds of responses from students saying that vespers means something to them: Vespers is a place of worship. Vespers is a glimpse of Heaven. Vespers is a time that I can express myself,” Kirstein said. “When I saw that, it didn’t matter where we were. It didn’t matter if we were in a tent or if we were in the church or the gym but that the environment would have been fostered for worship. That’s what we want to create.” 

Kirstein said he sees Southern slowly but surely morphing into a campus known for its spirituality.

The Office of Ministry and Missions believes that vespers attendance numbers demonstrate “the spiritual hunger of our students to experience belonging, a more profound sense of God’s presence, and a shared purpose of fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives and community.”

“I don’t know if it’s the increase in enrollment; I don’t know if it’s the increase in hunger for spirituality, or whatever it is. All I know is that it’s happening,” Kirstein said. “And so for whatever reason it’s happening, I think it’s cool that we can be there to provide these spaces.”

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