Why do we go to Chapel? For some, Chapel is simply part of their routine; for others, they are part of the worship team or prayer team. Some come to meet their friends, some are there for the first time, while others go because they feel obligated. How often do we intentionally go to Chapel to enter into God’s presence through communal worship? Throughout my four years at Trinity Western, being part of Chapel has taken an intentional effort on my part. If I’m honest, there have been many days I’ve gone simply to say that I did and to feel as though I could check a box on my Christian list. But sometimes my mind has checked out before I even walk in. Other times, Chapel has been the one thing that kept me grounded through seasons of difficulty and reminded me of God’s faithfulness in my life. Some days I struggle while I’m in Chapel. I do not connect with the worship and I am distracted and on edge because of all the things I need to do later on in the day. From a musical standpoint, I can be critical of the songs we sing – feeling the words lack depth, the key is too high and difficult to sing, and we sing the same songs every other day. At least, these were my sentiments, until I started to ask questions and explore the meaning of worship. I had good, yet challenging conversations with people involved in worship planning, and I realized my denominational background strongly influenced my expectations for Chapel. I felt songs were lacking in depth, but this was partially because I was not allowing the words I was singing to connect to my heart. There was disconnect between my head and my heart and it took paying closer attention to the lyrics and focusing on how they communicated the characteristics of God to have the songs impact my heart. My frustration of song repetition was challenged by my growing awareness of the diversity Chapel-goers in terms of church experience and tradition. It helped me realize the importance of having a balance of new and old in Chapel; even though singing the same songs may be getting old for me, the new person beside me feels more comfortable because they remember the song from earlier that week.
My perspective was also very consumeristic. What was I getting out of worship? What was I taking away from being in Chapel? I expected just the right type of worship from the worship team, but failed to acknowledge their humanness (and support them when they made mistakes), and I often did not extend grace because Chapel was not meeting my expectations. I focused on the individual worship without acknowledging the communal aspect of worshiping alongside others.
But, going to Chapel is about growing together in our walks with God. Worship allows us to come together, and instead of individuals each on our own journey, it is a time for our journeys to intersect. David Smith from Calvin College spoke in Chapel on Jan 29-30th, and he said, “Worship is the movement of the soul from self-love and self-orientation to God and outward to others.” He also spoke about praying through the Psalms. Some days we are in a dark valley and need to pray Psalm 6, while other days we are on a mountaintop and may not feel the need to pray this Psalm for ourselves. Nevertheless, we should pray it for others on campus who may be in the valley. Similarly, we may not be singing a song in Chapel for ourselves, but in our worship, we are blessing those around us by singing it for them when they feel unable to. It is a collective experience that allows us to acknowledge the faithfulness of God in our lives, and it will shape us, if we slow down and open ourselves to it.
Regardless of what a person’s reasoning for walking into the gym at 11 a.m., Chapel can be an extremely unique moment in a student’s life. On any given day, we spend our time going to class, doing homework, using technology, staying connected with friends and family from home, being involved in dorms, outreach, campus events, jobs, and the list goes on. Our minds are moving 100 miles an hour with to-do lists and homework assignments that we need to finish for our next class and the many other life stressors that consume our thoughts. Then, we walk through the gym doors and find ourselves walking into 30 minutes of reorienting ourselves to God. What a transition! I compare this to growing up in a house where preparation for Sunday worship began Saturday night when we went to bed, giving us ample time to transition from a work mindset to a time of worshiping God.
I recognize we are all at different stages on our journey and our understanding of worship. Maybe Chapel is something you have always enjoyed and continually grow in. Maybe, like me, it is something you have struggled with. I encourage you to make Chapel an intentional part of your day and along the way, have open, vulnerable dialogue about it, and ask questions about the things you struggle with.
My challenge for myself (and for you), is to work at quieting ourselves before God when we enter Chapel. This may look different for each of us, but here are some practical ideas. Jot down the mental list of to-do’s prior to Chapel so you can return to them afterwards. During the time of singing, talk to God, and let him know where you are at and the things you want to surrender to him. Leave your phone in your bag on silent mode. Sit in a place where you will be least distracted. (For me, that means sitting furthest from the doors when more people come in.) Take deep, calming breaths to become more still and focused on the worship. Journal on impactful points from the speaker. Acknowledge, in the midst of the chaos of your day, the powerful and awesome presence of God that we so freely can enter into.