Editor’s note: The following op-ed originally appeared in the Student Movement, the official student newspaper of Andrews University, and is reproduced here with permission as part of an ongoing series featuring voices from Adventist colleges and universities.
I went through this trying ordeal of chapel attendance, not because I would learn anything worthwhile but only to escape penalty. I suggest that this chapel period should altogether be abolished. Sabbath services would be good enough to cater to the students spiritual needs.
I remember chapels. I didn’t mind the ones in Machlan (auditorium) in the middle of the day; but in addition to those, were the evening “worships” in the dorm - and those were a bummer. This is when all the household dorm issues were ironed out. They started with prayer and a song, to end with a cursory prayer, but that was it for anything resembling worship. I would skip it every now and then if I could. We had a certain number free skips, but then the fines kicked in.
The campus included a farm and a field of grass, in the middle of which, was “Kilborn hill”. It was a mound on top of a gently sloping field with a couple of old trees at the top. It overlooked the campus, and you could see the spirals of churches in the nearby town. It sat behind a very old New England stone fence, adjacent to the road that was part of what we called, “mile’s square”. In the evening - about the time we were required to attend the run-down on dorm operations, the field behind the stone fence was alive with bird activity. They would fly over the grass, making bird noises, getting ready to nestle down for the night. I loved to walk around the “square”, and would venture up the path to the top of the hill. Not many cars on the road at that time and the campus was quiet since everyone was at “worship”. When I began to be fined for not attending, I took out my frustrations by writing about it in the school paper as part of the column I owned; but to no avail, of course.
We all recognize Adventist schools exist primarily to “make” more Adventists - besides, create a social venue where Adventist can meet other Adventists etc., well enough. That’s where I met my husband, and where the basis for my “inner life” began. I’m thankful for most of it, but the worships are the least positive part of all that. There was something “manufactured” about them.
Funny. In the “land of freedom,” students are not even allowed to live out the principle of freedom by deciding whether or not to attend chapel. Christian maturity anyone? Freedom of the Spirit? No? Forced spiritual activity is not a spiritual activity.
And this US American “assisted thinking” is spilling like a mighty thunder storm into other Adventist parts of the world that have had more freedom. Until recently. US Adventism: Thank you for nothing.
I Remember my time at Burman University and just hating going to vespers because attendance was taken. Then when I transferred to a non-SDA Christian University, I regained my love of chapel services because there was no attendance taken and therefore no fine.
How can we honesty say we’re leading people to Christ to freely chose Him when you’re fined for not going to vespers?
As a student at Andrews Academy and later at Andrews University, I attended Sabbath School taught by either Seminary professors in the Seminary building or undergrad religion professors in the student lounge. There was a lot of energy in those Sabbath School classes. I distinctly remember that Dederen’s class was so packed people sat on the floor wherever they could.
I never noticed any friends, classmates, or even casual acquaintances in Sabbath School. A few months ago, I asked our Andrews Academy class president a bunch of questions: Where did you go on Sabbath morning? Was there a Sabbath School and church service at the Academy? What was the popular place to go for Sabbath School? But he didn’t offer any answers.
In recent years whenever I have attended Sabbath School at the Seminary, I have looked around the room to see who is there. No undergrad students, as far as I can tell. Plenty of seats available; nobody is sitting on the floor.
I hazard a guess that a lot of the dorm students are still in bed at 10:30 a.m. Those students obviously lack intellectual curiosity, are sluggish and lazy, and are resigned to a bleak future. I never thought that choosing to listen to the leading authorities in our faith community teach Sabbath School was a special or exceptional thing to do. To do that was so normal for me. I didn’t give myself a pat on the back. Again, I never gave it any thought.
Or what is offered on a Saturday morning in Sabbath School is so intellectually un stimulating they are better off with an extra hour of physical rest, or pursuing their own independent study.
In my experience (probably different for others), those taking the “study” are more interested in ticking the box on each day than actually exploring the topic. The reasons for that are only knowable by the person in charge.
This brings me great joy. I literally laughed out loud.
When I was a Pacific Union College, my response was different. My response to chapels was, “boring and meaningless”. Which they were. Along with being a time sink.
We had worship attendance requirements as well. Interestingly, we got no points for going to church on Saturday, so of course we never went. We did figure out, however, that if we attended all of the week-of-prayer meetings in-between classes, we could almost make our worship quotas for the quarter - which meant we hardly had to go to any other (boring and meaningless) services for the rest of the quarter! Also, for whatever reason, there seemed to be no one in charge of keeping us from entering the week-of-prayer services with our text books. So, not only did we get all those credits, but we could cram for our next classes and ignore the speaker completely: Study-hall with worship credits! What could be better?!
I think forcing students to attend worship services on the penalty of fines or - as was our case at PUC - expulsion from school, is morally wrong. It makes worship a requirement, which literally makes people hate going.
In all seriousness, if the school can’t come up with something students want to go to - without getting points to go - then they’re not doing their self-proclaimed job to create a place that, “allows students to interact with a wide range of inspiring pastors, community leaders, authors, faculty, students, and alumni.” The apparent fact that they all fail in this way suggests they’re not fit for the job.
It seems that it was life-time ago when I attended Pacific Union College. In any case, I had the job that year of taking a record of the men who attended and reporting it administration. A special worship came up designed for the women. It was advertised and all were clearly informed that males would not be allowed to attend. On the day of that worship I was approached and informed that all comments by the speaker and also individual questions from those attending were going to be broadcast to another location where a number of males would be listening in. I was asked if I were given an accurate listing of the males who attended would I include them in my attendance list. My response was that I would need to attend that meeting and take the list myself. So, I was informed as to the place. I attended. We clearly heard all of the comments and responses. I included in my listing the names of all who were at that place. After, all, they did attend a chapel service at PUC.
You know, that almost sounds like they set up a situation where women were told that they could have a meeting where men weren’t there - presumably because the topic was for them only - and then they invited men anyway, who attended in a way so that the women weren’t aware. That sort of sounds like a betrayal - like a lie - doesn’t it?
The truth of the matter: The sound system was hacked into and was broadcast at another location in that building without the knowledge of either the administration, the people who planned the meeting, or the women who had no idea that their questions and comments were being listened to by other males.
NOTE: My purpose in telling this is not to suggest that it was ethical. Rathert it is to point out that the best of systems can be defeated. A way will be found to do such. While this is not the argument that I would use today, I did accurately report those who attended a PUC worship that day and time.
To me it was like mark of the beast persecution. It was strange sitting in assigned seats for church. The monitors taking record were being paid to work on the sabbath. I was 19, old enough to be drafted but treated like a child Then I found out village students did not face this requirement so I moved out I lived with my parents about a 40 mile commute. But guess what? I attended church anyway. Why? That’s where the girls were!.