My opinion on chapel flip-flops to alternate extremes.
Sometimes I feel like the requirement to set aside time for a spiritual purpose in fellowship with the rest of the campus body and God is extremely important. Hearing from perspectives and Christian traditions different from the ones I get at my church is a super enriching experience, regardless of whether or not I agree with the viewpoint.
However, other times I hate the whole entire system. When the people sitting behind me in Bauman are laughing about a video they’re watching together, when the collective mumble from the balcony is louder than the speaker, when someone is under a spotlight on stage making crude jokes or spoon-feeding simple information as if we're middle-schoolers or perpetuating an unhealthy culture for our community: those are some of the times I hate chapel.
And no matter which end of the chapel-opinion spectrum I’m feeling, I know that as a junior who’s just completed my final mandatory 15 credits, I’m anticipating to attend somewhere between zero and three total chapels next year. Whether or not I “like” chapel, I know that I don’t value it enough to discipline myself to attend regularly. And that alone makes me think maybe it's not having the impact it was designed to.
My second Living Room Conversation was on the topic of chapel and the identity of a Christian school.
We started by asking, "What makes a Christian school Christian?" And no one answered with, “Mandatory chapel.” Instead, we mainly discussed how our professors at Fox are required to sign a faith statement and live and teach in accordance with their faith; however, students don’t have that requirement. We saw this as a healthy distinction. A member of the conversation had previously attended a Christian college with a mandatory faith statement for students. In her case, she found that it bred hypocrisy and a fear of questioning: a “I am right, and you are wrong if you don’t agree with me” mentality. Fox’s method, however, seems more likely to breed faith and questioning within the classroom and within the Christian life.
But chapel didn’t have anything to do with that definition of “Christian” school. Yet in our conversation, we couldn’t deny that a clear marker for a Christian university is chapel – the dedication of time and resources to spend as a community with God. So I'm not sure if we can avoid chapel being part of the Christian school identity.
In our conversation, we had representatives from two extremes of chapel: One person had attended a college where chapel was not mandatory yet every student attended. The other had gone to a college with mandatory daily chapel where demerits were given for any absences. And the third person in our conversation is involved with SpIL and chapel at George Fox University.
At George Fox, we may not have chapel once a day, but we do go once a week; we may not receive demerits for missing, but there is a monetary fine. Chapel is not structured into our education quite like a class – which makes mandatory attendance feel uncomfy on a lot of levels. But chapel is an intentional decision by the university and by a student when they apply to GFU – not a casual social or extracurricular event, with the mandatory aspect giving structure and importance.
It's simply hard to know what to do with it. The opinion of chapel varies as widely as the student body. And if there's anything I realized during my recent chapel conversation, it's that the student body is quite diverse. We talk often about diversity of race and nationality (and rightfully so), but also at play are diversities of denominational backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, family backgrounds levels of faith or doubt, majors, interests and much, much more.
If we un-mandate chapel, what are we left with? A gathering of the people who would want to go, I suppose. You may have a picture of what "kind" of George Fox student would make up that group. They'll likely all believe the same things and likely have similar backgrounds. Right now, at least, I think that making chapel non-mandatory would make chapel non-diverse.
But what do we do otherwise? Just grin and bear it until our credits are completed every semester? Can we make chapel something that everyone's happy with? How do we, as a community, and how does SpIL, as servants to the community, acknowledge, understand, exist in and cater to our depth and breadth of spiritual diversity?