Every university has its own set of traditions, rules and expectations that are integral to that specific community. AU has a longstanding tradition of setting aside two hours each week for students and faculty to come together for chapel to participate in worship, prayer and teaching.
Other Christian campuses similar to AU, such as Taylor University and Indiana Wesleyan University, model chapels in a unique way for their communities.
“In any group of more than 2000 people, both satisfaction and dissatisfaction are experienced,” said John Bray, the dean of the chapel at IWU. “Some students love chapel while others do not. I try to plan the programs so students would choose to attend even if they had an option.”
Brays is ultimately in charge of chapel services at the Christian university located in Marion, Indiana. Services at IWU typically contain worship, which is led by student musicians and contain a 25-minute message from faculty, pastors, national speakers and occasionally students.
At IWU, students are required to attend 33 chapel services per semester. Chapel credit can be received from services which are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or from smaller and more focused events on Tuesday or Thursday evenings.
Bray describes the role that chapel plays in connecting with God in their community.
“For those who are leaning in toward God, it is a great place to worship. For those who are leaning away, it gives God a chance to break into their lives in a life-giving way,” he said.
IWU believes that spiritual development is as important as academic preparation, and chapel contributes to that.
Taylor University is a non-denominational university located in Upland, Indiana. Their chapel services take place three times a week, but they differ from many other universities because they do not require chapel attendance. Taylor University’s philosophy is, “You attend because you want to grow.”
Though chapel attendance is not monitored, Taylor University claims that “students fill Rediger Auditorium because the men and women who live together care about their peers and want to see them grow spiritually.”
Taylor University places an emphasis on bringing in chapel speakers with theological, psychological, philosophical, sociological, medical and counseling backgrounds and training. Taylor University claims that “fellowship, accountability and growth are part of what makes Taylor chapel special.”
Tamara Shelton, AU’s campus pastor says the goal of chapel is to “provide a way for the community to enter into common conversation with one another.
“AU seeks to remain aware of what other schools are doing in regard to chapel while also approaching chapel in a way that is distinctly AU,” she said.
AU chapels are structured to alternate between religious teaching and other topics. Tuesday chapels include a student-led worship band, scripture, prayer and a message from a faculty or staff member that follows a theme for that year.
Thursday chapel and convocation includes a variety of speakers including outside speakers and preachers, multiple chapels for students to choose from and student or department-led worship or topical experiences.
“There is an extremely varied response to the chapel experience among our students,” said Shelton. “There are many students who enjoy and benefit from being in chapel as a community. Often, the satisfied voices are not the ones that are heard. It is human nature to struggle against anything in life that is required.
“At times, this can cause a lack of engagement. What is challenging is that there are some students who would like chapel to go deeper into theological and biblical teaching while others would like chapel to focus more on social justice. Still others feel left behind when they haven’t had the opportunity to develop a biblical foundation.”
AU works to incorporate aspects of other cultures into chapel while still teaching the roots of the Church of God.
“Due to the diversity of our student body, we seek to provide a full experience that honors where our students are coming from while honoring the Church of God heritage and theology that provides the foundation for AU,” said Shelton.
Approximately three years ago, a committee worked to gather student responses regarding chapel. These responses were considered and were used to develop the current chapel system. A significant change that was made was to include AU sponsored life groups as a way to receive chapel credit.
“The Spiritual Life Advisory Council—a committee comprised of students, faculty and staff—is always seeking ways to continue to develop the chapel experience and remain cognizant of student feedback. We also try to maintain AU’s mission and vision for chapel and commitment to gathering as a community. We are currently in discussion about whether or not any changes need to made moving forward. Stay tuned,” said Shelton.