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A Chapel Overview

By Sydney Meyer
On March 16, 2018

Photo by: Sydney Meyer

What’s your first reaction when someone says “Gospels?” This word has many connotations; it could summon thoughts of the Bible, of Sunday church services or the words “good news.” If you’re an Ottawa University student, more than likely, the word will summon up thoughts of the required religion course: The Gospels.

Students at Ottawa University are required to take a class in which they learn about the history, teachings and important people within the four Gospels of the Bible. Along with class lectures, they are required to attend a chapel service each week, whereupon they complete a reflection over the message that was given. The chapel services are a point of contention for many individuals — they refer to them with an eye roll and head shake, unable to understand why they are required to attend a chapel service.

“I think it’s fine for students to think that chapels are ridiculous, that they’re crazy, and this must be a push to brainwash persons,” says Reverend Brown, professor in charge of the Gospels class. “Chapels are important because they offer the opportunity, not just for students or community members to engage in vocalizing theology or the study of God as persons perceive it, but it may even strengthen one’s tradition of faith belief, or non-faith belief, to the point that person says, ‘I’m stronger than I was when I came out of this’ or ‘I’m more assured of myself and my self-beliefs,’ which is always the intended goal.”

Chapel services have been a requirement of The Gospels class for as long as Reverend Brown can remember. He doesn’t intend to make them un-required any time soon.

There are multifaceted opinions where chapel is concerned. As with every requirement on campus, there are those who complain, those who bear it stoically, and those who enjoy it. It all comes down to the way you frame the experience.

“I like that they make us go to these,” says James Valentine, OU senior. “There are other schools that make you attend a lot more stuff, and for me, this isn’t that big of a deal just to get a little bit of knowledge because I’ve learned things through class that I didn’t know.”

“I don’t necessarily believe in anything, so I feel like I’m just attending it more for class than anything,” says Jared Demott, OU Junior. “But for those who do believe, I feel like it’s a great opportunity for them.”

Chapel services at Ottawa University usually follow a set format of greetings, worship music, prayer and a message. The messages are given by a different speaker each week and are centered on lessons that would be given in a typical church service.

Students are then required to write a reflection over the chapel, including the main point of the service and what they took from it. Reverend Brown asks for students’ opinions about the topics that are covered. He seeks genuine reflections and honesty, looking to see whether or not the students agree with the messages presented and why.

Brown says he’s looking to see “whether you [students] agree with the messaging. In some cases, some have. In some cases, some have said, ‘This is bologna.’ And I’ve heard that, and that’s fine.”

The crowd sizes vary depending on the week, but there are always members in attendance. Speakers tend to give messages that are relatable to the student body and use a variety of techniques to get their messages across. Because the chapel services are required and there aren’t many students willingly in attendance, Demott and Valentine agree that utilizing congregation participation makes for a more enjoyable demonstration overall. 

“I think for the people who really don’t want to be here, it’d be really easy for them to tune it out or ignore or kind of just get through it on their phone,”  Valentine says. “So I think some kind of involvement, where kids our age kind of find it interesting, to get it started, something like that consistently helps.”

Though often grumbled about, chapel services allow students exposure to ideas and concepts they may not have had previously.  

“I’ve learned some things I didn’t know beforehand, but it hasn’t changed my opinions on anything,” Demott says.

Ottawa University is a Baptist-affiliated university. Add this to the liberal arts requirement and you can see why a religion class would be required. Though not at the top of many students’ “I wanna do this” lists, chapel does allow a different dimension of learning, an opportunity to take the knowledge presented in the lecture and see how the lessons work into every day life.

“It allows students to hear different perspectives, especially when it comes to Christianity. … Chapels provide an opportunity for students to agree and disagree with different messagings and messages, and to have some critical reviews of them,” Reverend Brown says.

Through dynamic teaching, songs of worship and lessons for real life, students are exposed to the bonafide Christian experience, for better or for worse.

“This is a liberal arts college, and one of the big pieces that we try to engage students in really thinking outside the bubble,” he says. “If you don’t agree with the messaging or the messages … the challenge to students is, ‘Oh, well, what are you going to do about that?’”

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