Around Eastern Nazarene College’s campus, the topic of chapel is one that most people can contribute to. Whether you are a staff member or a student, you have some opinions on chapel. I often hear these comments as I walk around campus: “The worship was really good today,” “The speaker was boring,” “Did you hear the announcements? Jannon [Smith] made the funniest joke.” While comments can be positive or negative, the most consistent comment and question I hear is “Why is chapel mandatory?”
As a pastor’s kid, going to church has been embedded in my schedule from an early age. Attending ENC and having mandatory chapel feels like a natural routine that I personally do not have a problem with, unless I encounter myself running low on credits. However, looking around campus and listening to different people’s stories, I understand that others feel differently.
As of now, ENC requires students to attend 20 chapels each semester from a total of 26 chapels offered each semester. There are also a number of different opportunities offered to attain chapel credit such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Kingdom Experience, or Late Nights; the latter two count for half a chapel credit each.
ENC’s Statement of Chapel Importance says, “In chapel we gather, as a covenant community of faith, to worship God. Through the act of worship we, the body of Christ, find ourselves encouraged, equipped, energized and empowered by the Spirit of God for acts of loving service in the world. Chapel leads us to discover and explore authentic avenues by which we glorify God.”
The problem that I see is that students do not want mandatory chapel because they are either uncomfortable or feel obliged to attend. From a recent survey conducted by The Veritas, the main reason most students go to chapel is solely due to chapel credit.
When speaking to Lynne Bollinger, the chaplain of ENC, about mandatory chapel, she expressed her beliefs that if ENC were to take chapel away we would be losing a significant piece of our community. Since it is the one place where we all regularly meet, we are then able to share stories and grow with one another and grow closer to God. When deciding on colleges, I remember looking for one where I felt welcomed and at home. ENC proved to be that place for me the very first time I visited campus for a Red Carpet Day. As I walked into chapel that day, I remember being introduced to a handful of people, getting high-fives from strangers, and sitting next to college students that I later had the pleasure of attending school with. Chapel that day showed me how strong the community of ENC can be.
As for the students who neither affiliate with a religion nor feel comfortable attending chapel, Bollinger shared that she is working on starting an interfaith dialogue that would run simultaneously with chapel, giving students a chance to gain chapel credits while being plugged into the community. She has spoken to some people in hopes of getting a leader to start these dialogues next fall.
“The reason behind chapel is one way of expressing care for students spiritual life and growth,” said Bollinger.
The Spiritual Development Office (SDO) has been trying out new ways to make chapel more captivating and relatable to students. It was recorded in 2018 by ENC that only 25.7% of students affiliate with the Nazarene denomination, while 74.3% affiliate with “other.” This shows a high number of students that might not be accustomed to the Nazarene traditions. SDO has recently provided two different chapel opportunities, for students, outside of the chapel building—one being in the Lahue Physical Education Center and the other in the Cove Fine Arts Center. Providing a change of location for chapel has built a connection between SDO, athletics and theater. Bollinger shared that she hopes to see a chapel take place outside next year; she believes that changing things up can be one way to create a lasting memory for students in chapel.
Like any other young adult, I also do not like following strict instructions, and having mandatory chapel has the potential to take away the underlining desire to be present at all. However, I understand chapel is an important part of the ENC community and changing the mandatory aspect would cause a disruption in the foundation of ENC. Instead of asking “Why is chapel mandatory?” we should shift our perspective and ask “What are some ways we can make chapel better for all of us?”