Written by: Erin Rouse
Merge Worship, a student-led church on campus that highlights an African American-style worship experience, has begun the new school year with a location change and a rapidly growing audience.
Merge Worship services were previously held in Lynn Wood Hall but are now taking place in the Collegedale Academy-Elementary gymnasium. The shift occurred due to construction in Lynn Wood Hall and the building’s limited space for the congregation, according to Reginald Horton, full-time pastor for Merge.
“We partnered with the University Church,” Horton said. “ … We all got together and [gathered] some funding to kind of help us in the transition.”
The new location has provided further space for innovation, such as monthly potlucks, flags and signage lining the sidewalk leading up to the gym doors.
According to Horton, Merge’s top priority for finding a new location was to stay on campus. Merge’s vision since its conception was to stay local so students would not have to travel far to find a service that offered its worship style.
Nyah Banks, junior education major, said, “It was hard to find seating in [Merge’s] previous location unless I got there quite early. I think that deterred me from going a lot because I didn’t want to end up standing for the whole service.”
Banks believes the new location is a much better fit as it can adequately accommodate all the people who want to worship there.
Sofía Gil, junior piano performance major and media host for Merge, said the new space brings unique challenges to the musical aspect of Merge’s worship services but agrees that it is a more suitable location for students to enjoy the sermon comfortably.
In addition to the physical move, Merge has new open leadership positions. Horton said he is excited to have new students interested in serving the Lord. What makes Merge unique is the various opportunities it offers students to lead and use their spiritual gifts.
“We always have spots open. We have students coming every Sabbath asking what they can do to help,” Horton said. “We don’t turn anybody away. We say, ‘If that’s what God is calling you to do, let’s do it.’”
Horton explained that the Merge team embraces creativity, new ideas and suggestions for ways to improve.
The ministry is focused on remaining open to people from all kinds of backgrounds, age groups and families, according to Gil. The team wants to create a community that is inclusive for everybody.
“Merge just wants to be a family,” Gil said. “Hence the name, right?”
Banks said she attended Merge’s opening Sabbath this semester and left feeling blessed and uplifted by the service. She said the event felt like a family reunion.
“There is a lot of support in various forms within the Merge community, and it’s easy to find belonging,” Banks said. “I think Merge is very intentional about connecting with its attendees and making them feel at home.”