New school merges two programs

The Center for Worship joined with the Department of Music and Humanities to form the School of Music

Enter the Religion Hall across the DeMoss Hall, and you may hear the faint whisper of a guitar strumming in the background. If you follow the sweet melodies further into the building, you may be interrupted briefly by the sound of a student singing as he writes and rewrites the bridge of his new song. Continuing your journey, you may find that the source of the plucking strings stems from a professor giving a private lesson to a worship student behind a set of glass doors.

Worship —Worship majors Tyler Daniels (left) and Sonny Kingsbury (right) practice their guitars. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

The Center for Worship has made the Religion Hall its temporary home and has spread to include classrooms in the Performing Arts building and some rooms at the old Thomas Road Baptist Church building. This is due to the fact that the center has grown from a handful of students in 1998 to a residential program of more than 900 students this fall.

“The first question that I ask prospective students is, ‘What do you think God has called you to do?’” Vernon Whaley, Dean of the School of Music, said. “And if they can answer that by saying, ‘God is calling me to worship,’ then I say, ‘Great! Then God’s calling me to teach you how to do it. Let’s go learn how to do this together.’”

Building on the vision of late Jerry Falwell Sr. and resident artist Charles Billingsley, the Center for Worship reorganized its structure and residential programs in 2005, according to Whaley. This semester, the Center for Worship has nearly 600 students who study at the undergraduate level, 390 students who study at the graduate level and 18 full-time faculty members.

“Our mission is to train and equip the next generation of worship leaders,” Whaley said. “Right now, there are between 2,800 and 3,000 job openings in the area of worship, and our goal is to put Liberty graduates in each one of those jobs.”

The curriculum at the center has been regarded highly by many, and the center has won the “best of the best of worship education” award in 2011 and 2012. The award was given by Worship Leader Magazine, and its readers have also voted the Center for Worship as the “best worship program” for 2012.

“I think it’s an amazing program,” Liberty senior Brittany Clark said. “It combines a music major and a religion major to give you all the skills that you need to work in a church, lead, worship and do anything in this field. It also has a bunch of specializations that you can choose from.”

Music —Kristin Quint has been playing the concert grand pedal harp for nine years. Currently, the worship students reside in rooms within the Religion Hall and Performing Arts Hall. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Specializations for the undergraduate worship major include: biblical studies, business studies, worship technology, Christian artist development, pastoral leadership and more.

“It’s a difficult major, but it’s very fun,” Clark said. “All the people are so loving, and you become a little family that helps each other.”

The Center for Worship also prepares students to fill these needs by building a “market-driven curricula” and trains students specifically for places where jobs are available, according to Whaley.

“I just finished my internship this summer, and I was so pleased with the preparation that I’ve received from the school,” senior Julianne Osterhouis said. “I felt musically prepared, I felt spiritually prepared, and there was even a difficult situation at the church that we had talked about in classes that made me aware (of how to react to the situation).”

The Center for Worship has trained over 200 graduates since its first graduating class in 2009, and notable alumni include Meredith Andrews, members of the Christian band Anthem Lights and many others. Graduates of the program depart with the “great commission to worship” that describes worship as formational, transformational, relational, missional, commissional and reproducible.

Worship students have currently taken up residence in the Religion Hall, but the Center for Worship will probably not be in the Religion Hall in five years. Liberty University has announced plans to build a new school of music, and the Center for Worship will relocate their resources there. As for the program itself, the Center for Worship and the Department of Music and Humanities has already merged under the new Liberty University School of Music program and has been renamed the Center for Music and Worship.

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