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Daily chapel provides time to pause, reflect
March 2, 2009
It's 10 a.m. on a weekday morning. Classes have just been dismissed, and the bells in Boe Memorial Chapel's tower are ringing. The next class period doesn't start for 45 minutes, so while some students may head for a cup of coffee or take a trip to the library, a significant number of St. Olaf students, faculty and staff make their way to Boe Chapel to participate in the ritual of daily chapel.
|College Pastor Bruce Benson leads students, faculty and staff in prayer during daily chapel.|
"Students still willingly provide beautiful music, speak eloquently, listen attentively and meet friends happily at chapel," says College Pastor Bruce Benson. "The college still provides a time each day called 'chapel time' that sends a message to the community and the rest of the world that we order our day around a chapel time."
And today alumni, parents and others around the world can view live and archived chapel services via the college's online video stream.
Although it is not a traditional worship service, the basic format of daily chapel is fairly straightforward. It typically includes a faculty or staff speaker invited by Benson and Associate Pastor Jennifer Anderson Koenig '87. Or they might ask a visitor who was brought to campus through another organization or department to share his or her thoughts during the service. The speakers generally choose their own hymns, scripture passage, and theme of their talk, although sometimes they will have been invited to speak on a particular topic. (For example, the college presented a chapel series on "faith and civic engagement" last year and on "faith and science" this year.)
|College Pastor Bruce Benson, Associate Pastor Jennifer Anderson Koenig '87 and Pastoral Intern Bethany McCaughan lead daily chapel on Ash Wednesday.|
The early days
The tradition of daily chapel at St. Olaf goes back almost to the founding of the college. Early references show that room seven on the second floor of Old Main was where chapel services, as well as many other programs and performances, were held in the early years of the college.
Georgina Dieson-Hegland, a 1904 graduate of St. Olaf, reflected in her memoir As it was in the Beginning, "Welcome, indeed, was the chapel period, when all teachers and students -- without a thought of skipping -- met for a period of relaxation, reflection, and inspiration, with a salutary amount of admonition judiciously added."
Attendance at chapel was mandatory through World War I. Shortly after the war President Lars Boe decided attendance should be encouraged through persuasion rather than compulsion. Students and faculty alike were asked to look at skipping chapel in the same way they'd skip a class or an important meeting. Faculty attendance was highly visible before Hoyme Chapel burned in 1923; their place was on a platform in full view of the students. Even after chapel exercises were moved to the gymnasium following the fire, faculty members traditionally occupied the first few rows of chairs, and their attendance (or lack thereof) was noted.
|Associate Pastor Jennifer Anderson Koenig '87 gives the benediction at the end of the daily chapel service on Ash Wednesday.|
The St. Olaf Student Congregation was founded in the spring of 1952, and Boe Chapel was ready for student use in the fall of 1953, ending a 30-year tradition of daily set-up and teardown for chapel exercises in the gym. In the 1960s, an all-student meeting was held on Thursdays during the chapel period, with the president of the student body at the helm to discuss issues and events.
Alumni may remember a few special chapel events from over the years -- notably on Valentine's Day 1980, when Vice President Walter Mondale came to install President Sydney A. Rand as the ambassador to Norway. The college also has welcomed political activists, authors, musicians and even members of the Norwegian royal family -- the most recent having been Crown Prince Haakon in 2005. Today chapel time at St. Olaf continues to be a central part of many students' days, providing a respite in the busy lives of modern-day Oles.