Editorial comment: Response to chapel proposal

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.

This article was posted in the section Opinion.
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The Editorial Board comprises the editor-in-chief, opinion editor and two other editors. The staff editorial, composed weekly, reflects the majority opinion of the group. News editors and the business manager are never involved with the staff editorial.

4 thoughts on “Editorial comment: Response to chapel proposal

  1. I think this post is very misleading. First, these are simply recommendations. They aren’t actual changes.

    Second, in response to “it would be best to form habits out of choice instead of coercion.” most students AREN’T making these choices. Many students who identify as Christian, aren’t engaged in any sort of Christian formation at SPU. Even if they are involved off campus, not being apart of on-campus ministry hurts the community as a whole.

    Third, the recommendations clearly say that students are not required to participate, but simply to attend. SPU students should graduate with a clear understanding of the Christian faith and whether they will identify with it or not. Going to worship services is a big part of that. No one is going to be coerced into being a Christian. However, SPU is going to continue to be the Christian University that we claim to be, and if students are so uncomfortable with that, then maybe SPU isn’t a good fit for them.

  2. This would be too bad if it went through. When I went to Seattle Pacific University, I appreciated that it was a choice and not a requirement to go to chapel.

    Speaking as a person who was never very interested in going to church functions regularly, I can safely say that I was nonetheless very exposed to Christianity at SPU and had plenty of opportunity to talk about faith, go to services, go to Chapel, read the Bible, take theology classes, what have you. And I sometimes (though not obsessively) took advantage of those opportunities, to my surprise, and I probably became a better person for it.

    From what I saw, I don’t think SPU is in any danger of going full secular. At least, not anytime soon. There’s plenty of faith to be passed around. My gut tells me that if you want to reach that 57 percent, you’re better off not forcing it. That’ll only turn people off, and make them fall further from God.

    (Also, let’s be real, 43 percent sounds like a helluva number for any kind of student leadership anywhere to reach. I would compare that number with other schools before jumping to conclusions of “complacency.”)


  3. This change is most likely due to SPU looking bad for having such a low attendance rate. This isn’t about church or god or whatever, forcing people to attend chapel is always going to be merely for appearances sake. We already have the forced religious classes, the strict dorm hall rules, and a drier than most campus. For the sake of incoming freshman I would love for them to not have to deal with any more religiosity being shoved down there throat. What kind of “Christian” practice is it anyway when you force people to do things? Jesus didn’t go around mandating a certain amount of followers.

  4. This comment seems rather unhelpful and misleading. It’s not accurate to what the CMTF recommended, and while it is beneficial (and I think necessary) to critique the recommendations, this editorial does not serve to foster a robust discussion.

    “It’s very likely that Seattle Pacific University is going to start requiring chapel for students, faculty, staff and administrators.”

    This is a partial truth at best. What the CMTF recommended is just that: a recommendation. No decision has been made. I imagine that there will be a lot of discuss among students, staff, faculty and administration on the recommendation the rest of this year, and that a lot of feedback will be received. I also think it highly unlikely that what is recommended would happen for next year. I imagine that any decision on the future direction of the worship services at SPU would wait until we have hired someone for the new Chaplain position. I would hope that whoever SPU hires would take time considering recommendations on chapel and invite further input from students, staff and faculty.

    Furthermore, I don’t think it is fair to term what is recommended “required chapel.” When I hear “required chapel,” I imagine a mandate forcing me to attend every week throughout my college career. That is not the case.

    What is recommended is that all new students would attend a certain (unspecified) number of chapels as a part of their University Foundations 1000 or 3001 course. It was also recommended that student leaders, staff, faculty and administration would be expected to attend a certain number of chapels per quarter.

    If the reaction to this suggestion is “surprise or outrage,” that is perfectly fine, but let’s be clear on what exactly we are reacting to.

    Integrating attendance of worship services into the curriculum of UFDN courses (so that attendance would only be “required” for one quarter and occur within an academic setting) seems to me very different than “requiring a distinctively Wesleyan chapel” as the comment states. We already require students to read the Bible as part of UFDN 2000; is engaging in a number of worship services for UFDN 1000, as an observer or participant, much different?

    “Very few students are drawn here because they are Wesleyan, or want to be.” Yes, but we are a Wesleyan school and if “Wesleyan thought is covered as part of UFDN curriculum” is it outrageous to ask students to experience worship informed by Wesleyan theology? And to be given the space in a classroom to reflect on their experience and discuss it with others whether they love it, hate or are ambivalent? CMTF also recommended that chapel be a place where students “should be exposed to a broad range of worship styles and to diversity in terms of worship leadership.” It should also be noted that communion is not served at SPU’s weekly worship services.

    Also, since this is still a recommendation, I think it worth exploring various ways it could be implemented, if at all. What if students were required to attend, say 5, worship services as a part of their UFDN course which could include gather (Chapel), group or a church service? What if there were an alternative assignment, such as a paper, which could be completed instead to attending chapel? What if, more radically, student of other faiths could fulfill the requirement by attending their own faiths’ worship services?

    One of the reasons I came to SPU was because it does not require chapel attendance. I would not like to see mandatory chapel. However, I am open to the idea of integrating chapel into a small part of the educational experience here, and I think that is worthy of discussion. While The Falcon’s editorial comment says they “have more questions than complaints,” I see few questions that will spark a healthy conversation.

    We need to ask: what does it means for SPU to be an open-enrollment Christian institution with a diversity of faiths and Christian traditions? What does it mean for SPU to have a distinctively Wesleyan heritage? What role should our ministries play on campus, and in connection to SPU’s desire to provide a holistic education that affords students the opportunity to form our minds and spirits? Does spiritual formation primarily occur through community worship services? Should student leaders be expected to be of (and demonstrate) Christian faith? Does SPU have a “culture of complacency” around faith? To what extent is SPU responsible for student faith formation? Should SPU invite, encourage, and/or require some opportunities of spiritual formation?

    There is a lot to talk about! Let’s start a dialogue rather than dismiss the taskforce recommendations as out of touch and coercive.

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