Chapel’s footprint on Seattle Pacific University’s campus may expand soon. Last week, Provost Jeff Van Duzer announced in an 11-page document to faculty that the Campus Ministry Task Force (CMTF) proposed implementing required chapel for freshman and transfer students. They also proposed a new office called the Office of Christian Community and Ministry (OCCM) that will organize chapel, among other things.
A lot of initial reactions are probably going be surprise or outrage. But we have more questions than complaints.
Perhaps the biggest concern is that students are not required to be Christians in order to attend SPU, nor are all students and faculty Protestant Christians. Forcing students of either no Christian faith or different Christian faith to participate in worship services to a god they don’t believe in, or to participate in practices that are against their own denomination or religion, is an encroachment upon their own practices, or lack thereof. How will such services be inclusive and enriching for everyone if they are not for everyone?
Part of the reason SPU stands out as a Christian university is it does not require chapel attendance. In fact, many students were attracted to SPU because of that. If implemented, this requirement may steer prospective students away, leaving a more homogenous student population.
The task force states that “57 percent of the students who did not identify as student leaders never interacted with any ASSP Ministry, which may suggest a culture of complacency among a number of our students.” The notion that students must be complacent simply because they’re passing on opportunities on campus is problematic. It leaves out ministries off campus, which are a big thing for many students. It also assumes that whatever time students are spending away from campus ministries is not being spent well.
Moreover, CMTF explained that “Students are at a formative stage of development and are establishing habits for life. The regular practice of worship in the university is an essential component in student spiritual development, as regular participation defines and shapes the believer…” A few required chapels won’t be life-changing, but it would be best to form habits out of choice instead of coercion. By requiring students to attend chapel or other services that many have already deemed unnecessary to their formation as an adult, SPU would effectively take away their right to choose for themselves.
CMTF continues with theological requirements for all entering students, collectively called the Freshman Faith Formation (FFF) module: “1. Every freshman/transfer student will attend a required number (TBD) of Chapel services. 2. Every freshman/transfer student will attend a Wesleyan class meeting (small group). 3. Every freshman/transfer student will participate in a service learning/Christian reconciliation/cultural competence experience.” But very few students are drawn here because they are Wesleyan, or want to be.
The school’s broader Christian identity is the main appeal. Wesleyan thought is covered as part of the UFDN curriculum, so students are not lacking exposure to it. For numerous reasons, though, most of them choose to live and worship differently. Requiring a distinctively Wesleyan chapel feels disrespectful of those choices.
Editor’s note: the opening paragraph has been revised to correct misleading language.