Chapel and the Core
Virtual Service, Visible Impact
Burt Burleson, University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life
Chapel has always been changing. As the culture changed, as students changed, as the world changed, Chapel has changed. From a morning prayer service led by the president of the university to an experience focused on bonding students to Baylor and its community to a forum for ideas and current topics addressed by speakers of all kinds to a worship service, to a blend of worship and forum... chapel changes and is changing now.
As our student body grows more diverse with regards to interests, needs, passions, denominational traditions, and spiritual depth, we are moving away from a “one size fits all” approach to chapel. These days, in addition to our “big chapel” (see below), students can participate in a morning or evening prayer service. They can take part in Chapel Studies such as “Praying the Psalms” or “Faith and the Healing Professions” or “Faith in a Veteran’s Life.” The approach is to create more choice and more focus to meet students where they are.
Chapel is changing and, of course, changing now because of the Pandemic. Chapel “pivoted” in the Fall of 2020 to an online experience that sought to mirror the Christian Scriptures curriculum in following the biblical narrative. Each week had a theme and a text focusing on a significant story from the Hebrew scriptures. Our chapel films are not videos of a worship service. They are 20-minute creative, artistic experiences thoughtfully and professionally produced that introduce or reintroduce students to the story of scripture and its unfolding themes.
While analysis of our end-of-the-semester survey is yet to be completed, online chapel seems to be well appreciated, with a great majority of the students affirming that it was “helpful” or “very helpful” to them. Our students enjoyed Chapel Online. While Baylor chaplains will always provide ways for students to gather to worship and pray and learn and dialogue through in-person chapel experiences, it seems likely that an online option will remain one way to obtain chapel credit.
An online chapel experience gives students more flexibility in their schedules, it enables them to engage biblical teaching in a way that (for some) is more comfortable, it removes some of the logistical and behavioral challenges of having over 4000 students in and out of Waco Hall, it creates a measure of control as we steward this Baylor tradition in a time of divisiveness and heightened sensitivity in our culture.
This Spring, Chapel Online will take our students through the Christian Scriptures beginning with a focus on the parables of Jesus, then to the journey Jesus makes to and through Holy Week, and on to the beginnings of the Church and into the New Creation. We hope that, as restrictions are relaxed, various churches and ministries can actually gather students to watch chapel together and have a time of discussion afterward.
As those who teach in the Core help create a common experience, please take some time and watch a few of the Fall chapel sessions and those that are posted this Spring. You are likely teaching our new students, and awareness of what’s happening in Chapel would likely give you helpful perspective and opportunities to think with them as faith animates their academic experience.