by Liam Adams ‘17
Chapel at Gordon College. It is a routine that most of us do not question; we just go. We wake up an hour earlier in the morning and trek over to the edifice that has been specifically built to hold us every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. We find our regular seat in the pews, intently (or not intently) listening to the speaker before packing up our backpacks during the benediction and leaving to swipe our cards to ensure we receive our credit.
Chapel is a space that is designed to foster the spiritual growth of the student body. In it, captivating music is performed and compelling speakers preach inspirational sermons. It is a space for many students to feel safe and rejuvenated. This is factual for most students. Recently, while in chapel, I looked around to find most of the attendees deep in worship and praise of God. This reality is beautiful, and it should be respected and celebrated.
Yet as there are a percentage of students who feel welcomed in chapel, there are also a number of students who do not feel that chapel is a hospitable environment. There could be a variety of different reasons they might feel this way. Some students may embrace certain beliefs about Christianity or religion different than what is shared in chapel. Others might originate from a different Christian background in which the form of worship practiced at chapel is foreign compared to the worship style of their home church. Granted, there are occasional worship practices that reflect a diversity of worship traditions, but are these occasional inserts sufficient to make these students feel truly welcomed? Whatever the reason may be, there are some students who feel anxiety or discomfort during chapel.
The unrest that some students feel during chapel is not healthy. Their discomfort is not a God-given trial that will eventually yield spiritual growth. The discomfort they feel is a matter of mental health. It’s fair to say that most, if not all, Gordon students are undergoing a process of forming their spiritual identity. There are some students who are discovering a spiritual identity that differs from the definition of a spiritual person that is stated by Gordon’s official biblical beliefs. They are still required to attend a chapel service that tries to tell them what their spiritual life should look like. When chapel only upholds one belief system, those students experience anxiety, because they feel like their beliefs aren’t being welcomed by the institution that they are constituents of.
It would be a sensible solution for the students who feel anxious during chapel to choose not to go at all or at least specific speakers. If these students are having difficulty with chapel, it might be healthier for them to not be present in these environments that are anxiety-inducing. The problem with this solution is that students are required to meet their 30 Christian Life and Worship Credit quota. If students do not fill this quota, they are put on probation. There are petitions to lower the CL&W credit quota, but the guidelines for the petition being accepted are relatively strict. Furthermore, even though there are other non-chapel CL&W credit opportunities, the number of those events is extremely limited. In fact, the number of those kinds of events was decreased last year to incentivize people to attend chapel more often. For students who aren’t comfortable in chapel, they don’t have many alternative events to attend, and they also cannot skip because they would be put on probation. In general, we should be seeking ways to welcome or accommodate students who are put in a mentally negative state by attending chapel.
When certain establishments of Gordon are brought into question, the usual response is, “If you don’t agree with these rules, then don’t attend this school.” The problem is that I love Gordon, and I love the people here! I don’t want to leave, I just want to question certain matters that are not commonly discussed.