Published on October 31, 2023 by Libby Criswell  
Libby Criswell

As a student resident at Samford’s Center for Worship and the Arts, I spent the month of June helping to prepare for Animate 2023: Behold the Beauty. After compiling the music for the worship team, seeing the small group curriculum ahead of time, and assembling much of the Festival of Worship materials for each of the student groups, I thought I knew exactly what my week at camp would look like.

However, NOTHING could have prepared me for how far Animate 2023 would surpass my expectations, or how clearly I would see the beauty of God reflected in the hearts and talents of the teenagers attending.

I spent the days following Animate reflecting on what exactly it was that made my experience so special. I concluded that the uniqueness was in the variety of ways I was led in worship that week. It was incredible to see the students’ use of every artistic medium imaginable – they sang, they danced, they painted – all for the purpose of bringing glory to their Creator.

After a week of watching middle and high schoolers refine their unique talents to use them as vessels of praise, how could I not be moved to feel God’s presence so strongly?

I also found myself appreciating the ecumenical nature of Animate’s worship services. There was truly an experience for everyone to resonate with, regardless of denominational background. It was so fascinating to be exposed to such vastly different worship environments than the one I grew up in, and I found myself wishing that I had attended Animate as a teenager.

Before I came to Samford for college, I attended a church in my hometown that was doctrinally sound and full of wonderful and supportive people. The one drawback was that I never felt quite “at home” during youth group worship. I was hungry to feel God’s presence, but I was never able to grasp the link between emotion and spirituality that I saw many of my peers find within that specific worship space.

If I had attended Animate during that time in my life, I believe that I would have left camp comforted by the worship I experienced there – worship that, while different than what my friends back home might have preferred, deeply resonated with me and the unique way that God created my personality. I am sad that I didn’t get to experience Animate as a camper during high school, but my experience this year as a student staff more than made up for it. God’ beauty was evident to me everywhere, and I was moved to tears more than once.

To me, the importance of the creative and ecumenical worship that Animate inspires is that it reflects the beauty of God in so many different dimensions. I found myself spiritually moved in every worship service, and I have come away with a deeper understanding of how diverse worship practices can come together to create a fuller picture of the glory of the Lord.

Our God is so much greater than we could ever understand, and if we look at His Creation, we can clearly see how creative He is, too! If we limit ourselves to one worship practice or expression, we risk limiting our remembrance of the vastness of God’s glory, love, and power. As Christians, we shouldn’t feel apprehensive about planning or attending worship services that blend various expressions of worship; rather, we should be grateful that we serve a God who is big enough to receive all the worship practices that stir the hearts of His people.

By teaching teenagers about worship arts of all kinds, Animate is raising up future worship leaders who will reflect the beauty of God in every unique way that they praise Him. I am honored to have been a part of Animate 2023, and I am already looking forward to seeing how God moves at camp next summer.

Libby Criswell is currently a senior at Samford University majoring in music and minoring in biblical studies. She grew up in LaGrange, Georgia, where she first discovered a passion for worship that she has pursued throughout her college experience. Libby is a Student Resident at Samford’s Center for Worship and the Arts and serves as a worship leader for Samford’s Women-Led Worship series. Libby plays cello with the Samford Orchestra, sings with the university’s A Cappella Choir, and has been a guest conductor for both ensembles. She attends Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, where she sings in the choir. Next year, Libby plans to pursue graduate study in either music education or music ministry.