Guest: ‘required chapel’ misunderstood

Before break, The Falcon reported on the recommendations made by the Campus Ministry Taskforce (CMTF), which was commissioned by Provost Van Duzer to develop a proposal for the future of ministry at SPU.

I believe that the recommendations provide a good course of action for integrating the ministries into the organization, mission and work of SPU, giving vision and purpose to the ministries and critiquing and developing our ministry programs.

The place and purpose of the ministries at SPU has been unclear.  The Office of University Ministries (OUM) and the John Perkins Center (JPC) have essentially floated autonomously in the SPU organizational structure. It seems that ministries would be central to fulfilling the SPU mission, but they have lacked a guiding vision for their role in the university.

There also has been no structure or vision to connect and integrate the work of the ministries with academics and student life.

A key reason for this is that there has been no position at SPU to oversee the work of the ministries as a whole and develop their place within SPU. Currently, our ministries are split under the leadership of OUM and the JPC, and under these offices each individual ministry has functioned rather autonomously with no over-arching vision or guidance. The only person who currently works with all of our ministries as a whole is the ASSP vice president of ministries, and I can definitely tell you that is problematic!

But with the implementation of the CMTF’s recommendations that will change! A new university chaplain position will be created to “lead, facilitate, and champion the Christian spiritual formation of the entire university.”

He or she will be the executive of a newly created Office of Christian Community and Ministry, which will rejoin the service, worship and discipleship ministries together. They will work with the senior leadership of SPU as well as oversee a new Ministry Coordinating Council in order to integrate our ministries and spiritual formation into who we are and what we do as an institution.

The CMTF also created ministry commitments and objectives that serve to create a needed vision for the ministries, which is connected to the mission and signature commitments of SPU and built upon what our ministries are already doing.

The creation of the chaplain position and organizational restructuring are the primary and most significant recommendations of the taskforce.

I would imagine that other changes would not  likely occur until a new person is hired, receives input from staff and student ministry leaders, considers the recommendations of the CMTF, consults with senior leadership and others, and then set a course of action.

This  is important to keep in mind when considering   the  recommendations on ministry programming that would more immediately impact students. I imagine many will now be concerned or confused about the possibility of “required chapel” based upon The Falcon’s reporting and editorials.

When I hear “required chapel,” I imagine a mandate forcing me to attend every week throughout my college career. That is not what is recommended.

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 your reaction to this suggestion is “surprise or outrage” as The Falcon suggested it might be, 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 Falcon stated. 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?

I don’t think this recommendation should be dismissed out of hand. I think it’s worth debating various ways it could be implemented, if at all. What if students could fulfill the requirement by attending Gather (Chapel), Group and/or a church service?

What if there were an alternative assignment, such as a paper, which could be completed instead of attending services?

What if, more radically, students of other faiths could fulfill the requirement by attending their own faiths’ worship services?

The Chapel recommendation is just that, a recommendation, and should be seriously considered along with the whole of the CMTF’s work as decisions are made in the future on ministry programming and structures.

It is also worth noting what the CMTF did not recommended.

The basic way we do ministry is left unchanged, and this is a good thing. The recommendations built upon the current formulation of our ministries as worship, service and discipleship. They kept the ministries connection with ASSP intact, which ensures that the university partners with students and that the student voice is present in all ministry decisions. SPU possesses a unique model of student leadership, and our ministries are run in a dynamic collaboration between students and staff — this will continue into the future.

CMTF intentionally sought out student input from student ministry leaders, ASSP Senate and through an open forum that all students were invited to. From my perspective, it is evident that this input was seriously considered and integrated into CMTF’s proposal.

The recommendations of the CMTF should be welcomed and spark dialogue. They come at what, I think, is a critical juncture in SPU’s history. I believe the creation of a chaplain position will greatly benefit our ministry programs, develop the place of ministry and spiritual formation at SPU, and bring to the forefront big questions that are facing us in a transitional time.

I hope that students will take time to consider the recommendations in context and lend their voices as we as a community consider whom we are, what it means to be a christian university and where we go from here. I, for one, am excited for the future.


Scott Jackson, a senior, is the current ASSP vice president of ministries and a global development major.

This article was posted in the section Opinion.