Chapel: Behind the Scenes
Since George Fox University’s (GFU) inception, chapel services have always been required. However, there is more to chapel than meets the eye.
GFU chapel’s mission has always been to encourage spiritual growth in a Christ-centered community. Originally, chapel was required for students every day, according to GFU archivist Rachel Thomas. Attendance was even mandatory for faculty.
Gradually throughout time, the chapel requirements have become both fewer and more flexible. As stated in a 1954 student handbook, chapel attendance was required not only four days a week but for graduation as well. Applause in chapel could only originate with the seniors.
One reason why chapel used to occur so often was that there were fewer students. Chapel could easily be held when there were no classes. Over the years, student population and conflict with class schedules have grown. To address this, a GFU faculty committee collaborated on how to uphold GFU’s religious missions while acknowledging the students’ less versatile schedules.
According to a 1974 student handbook, students who did not meet the required number of chapel electives would be suspended from classes and co-curricular activities for one week. They could even be asked to withdraw from school at the end of the term without academic penalty. Unexcused failure to meet the 24 chapel requirements in 1990 could suspend a student for an entire semester.
Currently, a student is fined $20 for every chapel credit they are short. The money that is collected from these fines is put back into student programs. This includes serve trips, chapel speakers and musicians.
Guest speakers are invited purposefully by the Spiritual Life (SPIL) staff. Jamie Johnson, associate university pastor for Chapel Programs, said, “We start with our theme for the year ... [We consider] who are people who have written about, speak about or are knowledgeable about it.”
In selecting guest musicians and speakers, the SPIL staff sometimes collaborates with other faculty members. Before the beginning of each academic year, the list of guests must be approved.
“We spend a lot of time in prayer and talking about who are the people we should invite... and [figuring] out what their heart is and how they align with what our institution believes,” said Johnson.
Student-led worship has always been a part of chapel. The music has evolved from hymns played on a piano or an organ to more contemporary worship songs using guitars, drums and other instruments made popular throughout the decades.
Over the last several years, GFU has included more intercultural songs and intends to include even more in the coming years. “We want to mirror the diversity that is evident in our student body, and also want students to experience the diversity of God in God’s people throughout the world,” Johnson said. “Our main focus is in any given semester a student is able to, at least at one time, say, ‘That worship service felt a lot like what I’m used to’ or ‘Wow, that was different.’”
Alumnus and dean of students Mark Pothoff remembers that students used to be more engaged during chapel. “Technology has become very distracting in our culture and community... you wouldn’t see people on their phones or laptops.”
Johnson encourages students to turn their focuses from the responsibility of attending chapel to the “opportunity to be together as a community worshipping and learning about God.”
Reported by Kaylee Hatfield
Photographed by Olivia Berglund