How can we grow in maturity as a school in regard to cheating the chapel system?

Dont+let+Henri+Nouwen+catch+you+skipping+chapel

Ella Jennings

Don’t let Henri Nouwen catch you skipping chapel

Jon Kratzberg, Staff Writer

On Nov. 8, campus pastor Scott Lisea addressed the Westmont community, drawing attention to the fact that people were scanning into chapel and promptly leaving. Since this action goes directly against school policy, Scott took a second to challenge the Westmont community to “be adults.”

He offered the likely needed criticism that, when we check into chapel and then sneak out, we are cheating the system. This point is reasonable enough because, by committing to attend Westmont, we also agreed to the school’s policies. Instead of violating the rules and our integrity, we should adhere to the policies laid out before us by those who have lived more life than we have.

Many students agreed with Pastor Lisea and were happy with the announcement, as was made clear by the loud applause that followed his address. Yet other students were not as excited to hear this announcement and still felt it unfair to require mandatory chapels. 

In order to truly understand the many sides of this conversation, we need to look at the school’s vision for chapel on the one hand, and how certain students may disagree with it on the other. 

According to the chapel section of the Westmont College website, the vision for chapel is such: “Worshipping God is at the heart of all we are and all we do, so the Westmont community gathers together in the name of Jesus Christ, to love and learn from him through prayer, music and teaching from the Scripture.” Here, Westmont makes it clear that the purpose for chapel is centered on Jesus and our commitment as believers to follow him. 

Due to this vision of the vitality of chapel for the Westmont community, Westmont has made it a policy that chapel is a requirement for all students; however, all students are allowed 12 skips per semester.

To many students, this policy is a very reasonable expectation, and they mold their lives and work schedules around the weekly gatherings to make it happen. Yet, for others, this expectation seems burdensome. Some students may just be too busy to attend.

It would seem that, for many students, the choice is to either go to chapel or sacrifice grades, but is this really the case? If it is, how are the many students who attend all three services three times a week making it happen? I wonder if there is another aspect at play in this whole situation. Specifically, the fact that we are not always the wisest with our time. I can speak to the trend that when I am unable to honor a commitment, it is because I either didn’t use my time wisely or, because of the cornucopia of things I had committed to, I had too much to do to stick with that commitment.

Taking this into consideration, the critique still has some validity. Chapel does take up a prime spot in the day to do homework. However, rather than challenging the system, maybe we can challenge ourselves to watch less TikTok or Netflix and scroll through less Instagram or Snapchat. In humility, we can realize that we have made a non-negotiable commitment to the school. It is us that must change, not the rule. 

Moreover, chapel is a beneficial commitment! To get an insight into some of these benefits, I reached out to the worship team director for Westmont, Eben Drost. He shared that engaging in worship together brings us into a long tradition in the church. 

He specifically stated, “Christians have always embraced communal disciplines of gathering together for worship, e.g. Acts 2:42. Think of the Korean church’s practice of regular morning prayer. I think it’s reasonable — and consistent — with historic Christian practice around the world for us to commit to meeting together regularly for chapel, with allowances made for 12 skips and “special circumstances.” 

This detail — that we get to engage in a practice consistent with the rest of the global church — is a beautiful way to reshape our idea of our chapel gatherings given that we often forget what it is all about. Especially as believers, the fact that we get to meet together as a community without persecution is a blessing many other Christians long for each and every day. 

Moreover, we need to remember that we didn’t have this privilege last year. From conversations I’ve had with students and faculty, people missed the community aspect of being able to come together in a physical space to worship the Lord our God. So, as life gets busier and homework continues to pile up, let’s remember what a blessing it is to get to gather together.

Finally, if you do have genuine concerns, don’t just sneak out. This behavior goes directly against the Community Life Statement, which reads, “The college upholds integrity as a core value of the community. Members are expected to take responsibility for their own violations of all behavioral guidelines and demonstrate commitment to the value of integrity in word and deed.”

It is not an act of integrity to knowingly “beat the system” or, in other words, “lie.” If you disagree, try to seek reconciliation rather than breaking the rules. Voice your concerns and try — with humility — to see if there is a way to fix the situation. Your struggle with gathering tri-weekly due to schoolwork is heard and important, but instead of breaking the rules, heed the wise words of Drost: 

I think if someone has a legitimate problem with chapel, they could come talk to me or Scott about it, or a leader on the worship team. Let’s search the Scriptures, consider how we understand the commitments we’ve made, and figure this out together. That feels like a more adult response than sneaking out.”

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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