By Mia Agee
In the four years Erik Gernand has served as the university chaplain at Trevecca, almost every semester has been “non-traditional.” Since last school year, he has been dreaming up creative ways for students to gain chapel credit other than the “worship and word” structure they are accustomed to.
Prior to this semester, there were few to none non-traditional ways for students to gain chapel credit, said Gernand. Now students will have several opportunities for credit through dialog series, small group discussions, a service project, and a movie night for Black History Month.
Out of the 52 chapel opportunities for this semester, 17 do not include a typical worship chapel service. Three or four of these scheduled chapels will be small group discussions with some music elements, a devotion from Gernand, and a spiritual practice.
A couple of non-traditional, academic chapels later this semester are a dialogue series with Miroslav Volf, the founding director of faith and culture at Yale University, on March 23 and Kevin Dyson, a former Tennessee Titan’s player, on April 4.
“A lot of these things are built into the chapel schedule that we have already done in the past, but as usual, students only get the experience of half of the chapels,” said Gernand. “Depending on which chapels a student chooses to go to, they only have half of the story of what is happening in chapel.”
By informing students of what chapel events are coming up on the iAttended app, they can “plot out” their chapels for the semester, said Gernand. For some, particularly those who are not of the Christian faith, this is a helpful feature.
For some like Meagan Anderson, a sophomore psychology major, the non-traditional chapel credits scarcely impact her chapel experience. As a practicing Christian and on-campus resident, Anderson did not have trouble meeting the chapel requirements nor did she mind the traditional chapel services.
Some non-Christians and commuters have trouble finding the ability or desire to receive all the required credits. The “create your own” chapel experience gives them the opportunity to customize their chapel journey, meet all their requirements, and perhaps even enjoy the events they do decide to attend, said Gernand.
The chapel schedule was 80 to 90 percent complete before a student petition circulated last semester to get rid of chapel requirements, according to Gernand. The ideas of diversifying chapel opportunities and creating more chapel opportunities were already in the works prior to the student body’s complaints.
“We had our ear to the ground already, so the fact that we’re both having parallel conversations is not an accident,” said Gernand.
Despite it seeming like the chapel petition made a significant impact on chapel life, it did not seem to cause a great change in attendance numbers, according to Justin Jose, director of leadership and community engagement. The petition started in October, so there was only about a month left of classes before students went on Christmas break.
“Once you start getting towards the end of the semester, the attendance numbers that you see go down,” said Jose. “Just by virtue of the time of year, there are going to be less people that show up compared to the first two months.”
Through Trevecca’s history, the chapel model has morphed continually based on time slots and academic calendars, said Gernand. However, through all the changes, the hope is that the Spirit of God will show up even at just a handful of the chapels students attend.
“We’re always receiving feedback, looking for feedback, asking for feedback, providing surveys at the end of the year, focus groups and things like that. So over three years, the cumulative result of all this feedback has led us into this direction,” said Gernand.
The first opportunity for chapel credit this semester was watching a 30-minute video and answering a brief questionnaire at the end–another newer chapel format for Trevecca students. The video documented a conversation between Gernand and Jose about what new things to expect for chapel this semester.
Jose, whose role in the chapel experience is student engagement, oversees issues with the iAttended app or those who did not get the credit for a chapel they attended. He also works with chapel ushers, specifically the chapel usher hiring process.
“When people are coming to chapel, we want them to come into a welcoming environment. We want them to feel a positive reception towards being there,” said Jose.
Students are encouraged to actively participate in the chapel experience, contribute their own talents, and offer suggestions for areas that could be improved. By doing so, students can “create their own” chapel experience, as Gernand and Jose emphasized in the chapel video.