by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Last Friday, from 8 p.m. to midnight, students and staff of St. Thomas Aquinas Church-Newman Center in downtown Lincoln hosted their first “NightFever” event.
The doors to the church were open and students from the adjacent Newman Center were out on the sidewalks, inviting anybody they met to come in to light a candle and pray for world peace, an end to violence and their own intentions.
NightFever first began in Cologne, Germany after World Youth Day 2005. Two students came up with the idea to open their church, invite people in and allow the Holy Spirit to do what He does best: lead people to Christ. Since then, churches in more than 90 cities in Europe and North America have taken up the idea.
When University of Nebraska (UNL) senior Ashley McAndrew happened upon a video of a NightFever in Chicago, she was stunned.
“I was taken aback by the concept of the whole event, and the beauty that was brought about by having the Eucharist exposed and inviting people in to pray,” she said.
As special liturgies chair of the UNL Newman Center (along with Alan Goodenberger), McAndrew brought the video to the attention of Travis Barrett, president of the student board.
“I said this would be amazing in the new church,” recalled Barrett, a senior architecture student. “NightFever really does what our church is trying to do. It’s reaching out into the community and trying to be a beacon.”
The team arranged to have a prayer team, sacred music, confessions, and Exposition of the Holy Eucharist. Along with the FOCUS missionaries on campus, nine priests volunteered to be on hand to offer counsel to anyone in need. Dozen upon dozens of candles were purchased, and aluminum foil was carefully spread across the tile floor in front of the altar – as much to provide a reflective element under the candles, as to protect the new floor if wax should happen to drip.
To make NightFever universally accessible to people of all faith – or no faith – the team decided to focus this event on praying for world peace and the end of violence.
Newman Center students were also encouraged to sign up to be on the outreach team. One of the participating students was Brandon Allgood, a senior studying political science who was just confirmed in the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year.
Allgood’s enthusiasm stemmed from his own first experience with making a holy hour in a dark, quiet chapel.
He had received an emergency baptism from an Episcopalian priest as a newborn, given only a five percent chance to live. While doctors called his recovery miraculous, Allgood himself struggled with atheism in high school and his early college years. He started dating a Catholic girl his senior year and went to Mass with her at her request.
“I am not afraid to admit the first couple of times I went to Mass were to win brownie points with her,” he revealed, “but after a time, I fell in love with the Mass and started to go on my own.”
He enrolled in RCIA at the Newman Center, which was then operating out of its temporary quarters at 640 N. 16th Street. Over Christmas break, he attempted to go to a 10 p.m. weekday Mass, not realizing that the daily schedule was on hiatus while students were away. The center and chapel were entirely empty and dark, save for sanctuary lamp and our Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacle.
Allgood turned to go, but suddenly felt the urge to kneel and pray alone in the dark with the Lord. It was a turning point in his faith.
During NightFever, he had his chance to share his love for Christ and the Church with others.
“It starts by doing something like this, going out into the public in Lincoln, and bringing them to Jesus and the Church,” Allgood said.
McAndrew agreed. “It’s beautiful to see teams going out on the streets of Lincoln and inviting people to come pray.”
She added, “What most excites me is that everyone is welcome to come into the church, regardless of their religious beliefs or denomination. We are ultimately hoping that they will be able to see the beauty of Christ.”
Barrett estimated that about 600 people came, most of whom lit candles. He recognized a number of non-Catholics from his classes, including some members of the non-denominational Navigators group who were specially invited to NightFever.
Many, he knew, had never participated in adoration before.
“The biggest help was the outreach teams,” Barrett said. “A Newman Center student would walk up with three or four students, show them where to light a candle and encourage them to pray. There was a lot of one-on-one time between Newman Center volunteers and visitors.”
Everyone who came in was also given a prayer card featuring the image of Christ from the new church’s stained glass window. On the back, a prayer and contact information will encourage any visitor in need to get more information.
Barrett considered this first NightFever a success.
“I can see this happening again in the future,” he said. “I definitely can see the graces coming out of this.”