Olivia TenHuisen leads RUF worship. Photo by John Crawford ‘20.

My sophomore year at Davidson was marred by months of stress, anxiety, and panic attacks—things I hadn’t struggled much with previously. The source of those worries varied daily, and I never felt like I had a secure base to stand on. I’d grown up in a Christian family and still attended church almost weekly at Davidson, but at the time my faith didn’t seem to be providing much comfort, and I was utterly discouraged. A few of my friends at Davidson had started going to the RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) large group gatherings on Tuesday evenings for a time of worship and Christian community. They’d invited me a few times and I’d enjoyed it, but again I was disheartened when my “good Christian actions” of singing some praise songs and listening to a sermon didn’t make all my problems magically disappear. 

On one such Tuesday, I found myself sitting in the Sprinkle Room as the worship leader at the time announced that they were in search of more musicians and singers to join the worship team. My friend sitting next to me nudged my elbow and whispered, “You’d be really good at that.” That small affirmation motivated me just enough to talk to the leader after worship that evening and soon I started sitting in on practices and worshipping alongside Davidson students I’d hardly ever interacted with.

Those practices on Sunday nights in Lingle Chapel were a glorious break from the constant busyness of Davidson. As I sat with eyes closed, enjoying this time of unabashed worship, I started to realize what made singing here so much more meaningful to me than singing in a choir or for an audience. When seen as a performance, it’s easy to focus on every mistake you make and worry about people judging your abilities. But when that music is rooted in worship, it’s about so much more than hitting the notes and getting the rhythm right. It’s about connecting with the people around you and bridging a spiritual gap that words, thoughts, and actions simply can’t span. 

Since becoming more involved in this community, the role of music in my life has moved from being a showcase of talent to being a way to create an environment in which people are able to rest and find peace. There were certainly other things that happened that semester my sophomore year which helped relieve the constant anxiety I had been dealing with, but my involvement in RUF worship played a tremendous role in that transformation.

The following fall, I knew I wanted to further my commitment to serving in RUF so I joined the body of students that help organize RUF by becoming a worship leader myself. RUF is a pretty structured organization that allows busy Davidson students to be involved in a variety of ways and with varying levels of commitment. Any Davidson student is welcome (and encouraged!) to participate in large group gatherings on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm in the Sprinkle Room, join a Bible study for a smaller community experience, or attend any of the campus events held throughout the year. Beyond that, students who want to be a part of what goes on behind the scenes with planning all these things can join a ministry area or the servant team. Ministry areas focus on leading one of the three domains of RUF community just mentioned, with a relatively low level of time commitment. This was where I first became involved in RUF leadership my junior year, and it served as a helpful segue into my involvement In Servant Team this year. Servant team is more of a time commitment compared to ministry areas, but the time spent is especially rewarding with more time devoted to personal and communal spiritual reflection, discussing specific situations and planning for RUF as a whole.

As the time I’ve dedicated to RUF worship has increased over the past two years, I’ve witnessed my own well-being improve and my Christian roots deepen. Things have changed a lot in the way RUF music runs, but it’s been a fun adventure to explore these new areas with all the other people who serve in RUF worship. We now practice in the Sprinkle Room instead of Lingle Chapel for logistical reasons, we’ve begun introducing more contemporary praise songs alongside the traditional hymns to support an array of Christian backgrounds, and we now have two worship teams that alternate leading at large group meetings. 

But despite all these transitions, the role of music in worship hasn’t changed. In RUF, it’s still about connecting with your personal faith, the community, and with God. Everyone devotes their time and energy to something, and for Christians, music plays an important role in orienting that dedication towards the focus of our worship. Understanding your faith and exploring Christianity in college can be confusing, so RUF strives to be a place where students feel comfortable doing that in community and through worship.

Olivia TenHuisen‘20 is a Psychology Major and Health and Human Values minor from Grand Rapids, MI. She can be reached for comment at oltenhuisen@davidson.edu.