On Sunday evenings, dusk turning the Iowa sky into an expanse of embers, the Cheville Chapel carves itself out of the horizon, silent, and emblematic. However, one would little suspect that within its walls the Afterglow band’s music resounds through its sanctuary, meeting the ears and hearts of all the attendees of the 7pm service. For a building nearly four decades old, the Afterglow service continues to provide a refreshing alternative to traditional worship. Dylan Pitt, Afterglow’s front man and coordinator, elaborates on this: “In technical terms, it’s a service supported by Campus Ministries and guided by the theology and traditions of Community of Christ, which is by far a major aspect of Afterglow’s identity. However, we’re guided by the mantra ‘Show, don’t tell’ in the songs we play and in the messages delivered. What we mean by this is that we demonstrate our love for the world by choosing songs that use poetic lyrics that demonstrate hope despite our inevitable struggles. It was important for me when I took over that the band paid closer attention to the theology present within non-secular songs as I often find more meaning in songs unfairly titled ‘secular’.”
Performing an array of contemporary songs – from artists like The Beatles and U2 to more recent chart toppers such as Phillip Phillips, Twenty-One Pilots, Coldplay, et al – the service not only embodies the practice of worship with a more modern, accessible tinge, but, more importantly, fosters and promotes an interfaith community of diverse worshipers. Likewise, Afterglow’s mission appears twofold: one, to give students a chance to decompress after a week of zombifying 8am classes and merciless piles of homework, and, two, to provide respite and reflection in preparation for the coming week of work, study, and responsibility. In that discombobulation between Alpha and Omega, Afterglow offers serenity and a dire refueling of morale.
This year’s lineup consists of Dylan Pitt, the Afterglow coordinator, on guitar and vocals; Robby Donarski on bass; Mariah Mann on violin (who Dylan lauds as “the most talented violin player on this side of the Mississippi.”); Christina Koch on piano and vocals; and Matthew Moore (yours truly) on drums. Not to mention a rotating lineup of featured singers including Jordan Bradford, Melissa Sherer, Will Ward, and Grace Wood. Dylan comments on the ever changing lineup and the evolution of Afterglow’s musical dynamics saying:
“New tracks emerged in our set lists such as ‘Use Somebody’ by Kings of Leon, ‘Feel Again’ by One Republic, and ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ by Coldplay, among others. The instrumentation changed as we brought on Mariah Mann. The guitars changed as we went from solely acoustic to embracing the sound of an electric guitar with various effects. The band moved from a static 6 members to a system that rotates a total of 15 people with a core group of 5 instrumentalists. Lastly, though I miss the band members from four years ago, I am currently surrounded by some of the most talented and loving people I’ve met in my 22 years of life. Matt Moore, Christina Koch, Robby Donarski, Mariah Mann, Nathan Mack, and Katelyn Matthiesen are such talented individuals with a soothing presence that makes every Afterglow-related event a highlight of my week. I sincerely cannot express how much their presence means in my life as together we’ve laughed, worked, prayed, worked through tension, shared burdens, and lifted each other up in various ways. At the core of my love for Afterglow lies my appreciation for working with these people.”
Typically, the band’s performance is interspersed with a sermon delivered by a student, faculty member, or guest speaker. These brave few, for whom the cathartic experience of speaking grants new insights and inspirations, share stories and anecdotes of personal trials, tribulations, and triumph. Concluding the service, the band recommences the music in the spirit and manner of restoring and reinvigorating us for the impending week. As Dylan puts it: “For me, Afterglow is a time where students can gather and embrace the struggles and triumphs of being human.”
Dylan, an unflinching member of Afterglow since 2013, and who will be graduating this May, is preparing to step down as Afterglow coordinator: “It’ll be one of the most difficult things to let go of as I leave Graceland in May. However, I believe without doubt in the leadership of Mariah and Christina to continue this program and accomplish things I could never do as the coordinator. With their dedication to friendships, loving presence, and superb musical skills, they will carry Afterglow on with tenacity. On a personal front, just because I’m leaving Afterglow doesn’t mean that it’s leaving me. I feel a responsibility to create new communities in my time after Graceland that promote hope and pursue peace as these missions are not solely tied to Cheville Chapel, but are urgently needed around our world. I would fail the program and everything it stands for if I thought the road for creating hope stops at graduation.”
As stated, Afterglow invites individuals from any and all communities of faith to share in the comfort and joy of worship and music. Service begins at 7pm every Sunday in the Cheville Chapel. I’ll leave you with the words of Mariah: “Afterglow gives me an opportunity to provide a ministry to my peers, and allows me to connect with likeminded musicians that honestly just want to make this world a better place. It brings students and members of the community together to engage in music designed to bring love, hope, and peace into individual’s lives.”