Two weeks ago I had the privilege of being present at the chapel service of Geneva College. I would like to report on my experience there.
Each person entering Metheny Fieldhouse was given a program that had the service printed in it. The theme printed on the front of the program was thoughtfully woven into the elements of the service. As students and faculty took their seats, members of New Song, a music and drama ministry of the college, were singing psalms. Announcements regarding upcoming events flashed up on two large screens at the front of the assembly. The gym was abuzz with people laughing and visiting with one another. Those participating in the service were gathered together beforehand by Chaplain Rutledge Etheridge, in his first year at Geneva, to be introduced to one another and have the details explained. Then we spent time praying for the service.
Following some enthusiastic verbal announcements by students regarding various activities on campus, the service began. I would describe it as orderly, Scriptural-based, and God-honoring. A few students led the packed gym in prayer and Scripture readings, and as they did so the gym quieted down as people participated. For the singing during the service itself, New Song did not perform. Rather, one of the young men in the group gave a thoughtful, brief explanation of the psalm, then New Song led us in the singing of the psalms acapella . As I looked around I was encouraged by how the gymnasium was filled with voices singing God’s praise and, though not a hundred percent, how many were participating in the singing. Later, as the Word was preached, I was encouraged by the attentiveness by many and the interactions that took place afterward.
One of the reasons that I want to give this report is that for quite a number of years, through conversations at church court meetings, I had heard that the chapel was, sadly, often a place of contention on campus. The official college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, many elders were upset that the “worship wars” taking place in many churches seemingly were being waged in Geneva’s chapel. In trying to service the desires of a varied student body and faculty, the different styles of services that were offered were perceived not always to be consistent with the worship standards of the RPCNA. Having had two children attend there, one having graduated recently and the other planning to do so in the next few weeks, I knew that it was not only the elders who struggled. Many students were troubled by the back-and-forth nature of the services as well.
Yet there appeared, to me at least, to be a great deal of acceptance and enthusiasm for the current approach. One senior student told me later that day that it seemed after every service his first three years a good number of students would always be upset after chapel for one reason or another. But, he then told me, this year he had not heard any complaints once the changes had been made, a real sense of peace had been present, and that, indeed, many students who were not from the RPCNA had commented to him that singing the psalms was actually something they were enjoying.
Right after the service, President Ken Smith told me that many Christian colleges have given up on mandatory chapels but that he thought so much was gained in continuing them. I think he is right. How wonderful it is for hundreds of young people, whether they realize it or not, to pause in the midst of their day to pray to the Lord, praise His name, and hear His Word in the simplicity and purity of the devotion that is being offered there.