Every Wednesday and Friday morning, students of ENC gather in Wollaston Church of the Nazarene, also known as “Wolly,” for the bi-weekly chapel service.
If you are unfamiliar with what chapel is, it is a time when students gather in worship and hear messages from ENC Chaplain Montague Williams, or other guest speakers. To some, this sounds like an impactful experience, but for other students, it is often considered boring.
Chapel attendance is required, with only a small amount of skips allowed, and this is pretty apparent based on the number of students who are constantly on their cell phones, in conversation with their peers, doing homework, or just listening to music.
On the other hand, there are students who thoroughly enjoy chapel services here at ENC. They look forward to this time that is set apart for worship and renewal. They may have a full schedule and this may be the only time they get to see their friends. Even more heartfelt is the fact that this may be the only time where students not only receive prayer, but the only time where they pray for one another.
I do not think that chapel should be eliminated, and I also do not think that students should be penalized for not attending chapel.
At ENC, we are required to attend 20 chapels per semester, which allows for us to miss 6 chapels. If a student goes over this limit of missing services, they are required to pay a $15 fine for each missed chapel. Now, this leaves students in a tough predicament when they want to excel in their courses, but also do not want to pay the fines that come with missing chapels. The only option is to then complete assignments during a time that is supposed to be reserved for worship, prayer, and community gathering. In my opinion, this does more harm than good.
On the other hand, students are constantly distracted by those around them and those who genuinely want the full chapel experience may not be able to receive it when their peers are being disruptive. Just recently, my friends, myself, and others around us were distracted because somebody was singing a song with their headphones on and failed to realize how loud they were.
This year, I had to wake up a friend of mine because she was snoring (pretty loudly) during a service. Perhaps these two distractions would not have happened if we did not have to attend chapel as frequently. It is almost as if chapel has become a course load for students and they are only concerned with receiving a pass or fail grade at the end of the semester. Attendance matters, not attention, so why not take a nap or put headphones in? At least they will be marked as present.
Despite all of the distractions, I understand why chapel is a requirement for students. It is beneficial to us as believers as it strengthens and unites us in community. There have been times when I did not want to be in chapel, but I overheard part of the message that was being spoken and it had a positive impact on my life.
Furthermore, there have been additional times where chapel has been pivotal to our community, such as when Montague addressed the vandalism that occurred on our campus after the recent presidential election. In moments like this, it is critical for our community to gather as one, hear the truth of God’s word and lament with one another.
Still, there is no guarantee that those who were sitting in the pews that day heard what Montague had to say. Maybe they were rushing to finish a paper, or maybe they were distracted by their neighbor’s Snapchat feed.
I asked some ENC students about their thoughts on chapel. Some do not understand what chapel is like and have a difficult time comparing it to church or youth camp; it really is its own thing which is incredible and unique. I also asked my students if they would rather be fined $15 or be required to attend chapel only once per week. They chose the latter.
As students, I think we can all agree that some days are easier than others. We all have different course loads and while one student may be busy and tired on a Wednesday, the next student may feel that same way on a Friday.
The problem lies with the lack of guarantee that a reduction in the frequency of required chapels would be beneficial. There is no formula for determining whether or not a student will pay attention. I understand that students sign a contract and agree to attend chapel services.
However, I find myself questioning how failing to meet that agreement can affect believers, or even those who attend our school and are not Christian. If Suzy attends 21 chapel services, while Sally only attends 16, does that make her more spiritual? Or is she contributing to her community more by sleeping in the pews?
I am just one student at our school, and we may each have a different opinion. As I stated before, I am unsure of a solution, but I do believe that there should be some conversation around chapel.
These conversations should involve the student body, as well as faculty. Many of them have been here for years, so they may have a suggestion or perspective unique to ours. Even new faculty can have a fresh input on the situation. Either way, joining as a community, worship, and fellowship are vital to our campus, and that should not be completely eliminated.