Being Honest about Chapel
We are the people who share whispers exclusively, who in opening up to one another, soon discover there are more of us than we think. Some of us adopt a “go with the flow” mentality; others can’t accept the status quo. We are hidden among the “masses,” and are a greater portion of the student population than perhaps Greenville College would like to believe. We are the students who sit in chapel and disprove the CCM major when he or she prays, “Jesus, we are all just so thankful to be here worshiping together,” because on both accounts we’re not.
We are often afraid to speak, worrying that “I hate chapel” becomes synonymous with “I hate Jesus” to those who seem to love the tri-weekly gathering so much. We fear ostracization by our peers and disapproval from faculty, but many of our fears are unfounded if we garner the courage to explain ourselves. We have our various reasons for remaining unappreciative of the mandatory chapel hour and our emotions regarding it range from mild annoyance to abhorrence to dread. In giving voice to a grievance I’ve held mostly inside since my transfer to Greenville College last fall, I’m terrified at some terrible consequence I imagine must follow my very public assertion; however, if I can garner just enough bravery to respectfully explain my distaste for chapel, maybe someone else will be brave enough to agree, and maybe that will start something.
Firstly, the nobility of Greenville College’s Lifestyle Statement must be praised. It would be ignorant to think that the “rules” Greenville College students agree to live by were created out of anything other than our best interests, but we have reached a point of maturity at which it’s necessary that we, as young Christians, take responsibility for our own spiritual lives and wellbeing. We are no longer children whose parents wake us up for Bible classes and church services on Sunday mornings, and—having transferred from a moderately sized, very liberal public college—I can safely insist that if we don’t want to, we don’t have to worship at all. That is not to say we shouldn’t, just that the responsibility, benefits, and consequences of maintaining our spirituality are, and have been from the moment we packed our bags and set off on our college adventures, in our own hands.
We may fail. I promise you that not one among us holds the key to spiritual perfection, and we’ll make choices spiritually that result as other decisions often do: negatively. Greenville College created its Lifestyle Statement as a tool to guide young Christians along their personal religious journeys, journeys which I feel—and regret—many of us don’t begin early enough. As is written in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Up until now, authority figures in our lives should have assumed that responsibility. As previously indicated, we are no longer children, and while Greenville College’s influence in our spiritual lives is their noble goal and right, to make the ultimate decisions regarding where, when, and how we worship is ours, and should be recognized so without consequence to us.
When looking into Greenville College last summer and reading that “students, faculty, and administrators are expected to attend chapel,” I assumed that such assertion translated to, “Greenville College expects me to attend church.” I assumed it was an anticipation, a hope rather than a command, for the words are not synonymous. As has become only more evident through GC attendance, very few tenants of the Lifestyle Statement can be enforced as law, but are rather guidelines toward what Greenville College, drawing on its Wesleyan heritage, views as a healthy religious journey. I believe Greenville College well knows it can’t reasonably enforce universal regulations on what Christianity is or what Christians do, but that it tries to exert such influence in one of the few areas it can actively monitor. Sadly, this is also one of the most personal.
Not all Christians worship in the same way or hold the same beliefs. Not all denominations practice open communion, women in the ministry, or prefer contemporary services. Our Christian theologies, while fundamentally the same, feature radical differences. I spent the first semester of my Greenville College career keeping a running list of the differences between my beliefs and methods of worship and those of others around me (on the denominational level). I here rather take note of the personal. Some of us prefer to worship privately or to thoroughly moderate our communal worship with John Wesley’s more personal “Works of Piety,” such as searching Scripture or taking time for prayer. It is not Greenville College’s place to determine how much of each is necessary and to mandate the said amount, nor is it the college’s right to enforce worship at all. Christians don’t do that to non-Christians and they don’t do it to each other. The college’s guidance more rightly comes through promoting Christian ideals and thought in its Core curriculum. Where the classroom arguably poses an open forum for ideas and spiritual contemplation, chapel forces primarily Methodist and Baptist inspired messages and worship even on those non-Christians in Greenville College’s attendance. What, I ask, brings more people to faith: invitation or mandate? Those among us, both Christian and non-Christian, forced to sit through chapel against our will, are not worshiping, but resenting Greenville College (and in some cases, Christianity) more every second.
God doesn’t mandate a specific type, place, or amount of worship, so why does Greenville College? God only requests a personal relationship with Him and love toward one another. Greenville College wants to ensure its view of healthy Christianity is propagated, but it shouldn’t and it can’t. I asked my pastor long ago why, if He is omniscient, God granted humanity free will, allowing our fall into sin. If God knew Adam and Eve would choose to eat of the forbidden tree, why did he allow them the ability to make that decision? His response resonates with me. If humans didn’t have free will, he answered, their love of God would have no meaning. In other words, action devoid of proper motivation is worthless. My young mind likened this description to God loving robots that feared and loved because they were thus programed. God knew that Adam and Eve would fall into sin, but he didn’t stop them from making those decisions; without their choice, obedience was meaningless. Naturally and as aforementioned, Greenville College students will sometimes fail in making right spiritual decisions, but the institution forcing us to worship their prescribed amount at their time and in their way is futile. Mandated worship isn’t true worship, and without internal motivation, it lacks meaning.
If mandatory chapel attendance was only once weekly, I could understand its motivations and support that its ends justified its means. Chapel is, after all, not only a time of coming together spiritually, but a time for hearing the “what’s happening when” around Greenville College. If drawing people willingly into chapel through exposure is the goal, therein is lain an excellent solution, in addition to the social encouragement of peers. Bi- or tri-weekly chapel is not a viable alternative and is an unacceptable encroachment on individual liberties (though multiple weekly chapel options are more than welcome). Even under such a system, continuing chapel would necessitate more denominationally diverse speakers or those which are entirely non-denominational (the latter of which I feel an almost impossible feat if one wishes for the most theologically rich sermons), in addition to exemptions more freely given to students for personal reasons.
In retrospect, I suppose sharing my distaste for chapel didn’t warrant as much anxiety as I rewarded it. If you are one of the silent many holding such opinions, I encourage you to respectfully speak out. Resentment has consumed much time I’d better spent spiritually, academically, or generally proactively, and I’m sure it will continue to do so until change is realized. If the school listens to students’ voices, change is possible. If it brushes off our concerns and objections as youthful or lacking understanding (as some of us fear), then we’ll have a bigger issue on our hands. The fact of the matter remains: we haven’t given Greenville College the opportunity to hear us. We haven’t spoken out loudly enough. If you are one of our number who can’t accept the status quo, join with me in making our opinions known. Your voice is valuable.