By Michael Claxton
Since I did not attend a Christian college, chapel was new to me when I came to Harding in 2003. I remember being deeply moved by the singing and the devo, and marveling at the chance — rare on college campuses — for the whole community to share in the same experience.
After serving 15 years on the chapel committee and planning a few of the 150 programs per year, I came to appreciate even more the rich potential of this moment. When 3,000 people praise God together, or celebrate achievements together, or mourn together, it can be a powerful thing. I still love coming each week.
Most of the time, chapel is serious — as it should be. But Scripture says that “there is a time to laugh,” and there have been many delightful moments over the years when the Benson Auditorium rang with mirth. Some of them were planned. Many of the best ones weren’t. Some of them may not seem that funny now that the moment is gone, but humor is like that. How often have you been reduced to hysteria by things that in no other context would amuse a living soul? You just had to be there. Still, it’s worth sharing stories of the lighter side of chapel.
Did you know we once had a faculty dog show? One year, the Harding faculty decided to showcase its professorial pets in chapel. An emcee in a tuxedo narrated the poodle parade in the style of John O’Hurley, as various teachers walked their dogs across the platform. Not all the canines cooperated, and let’s just say the stage had to be mopped afterward. But the audience loved it.
Announcements have been a ripe source for comedy in chapel. Dr. Joe Pryor was the academic dean for years and was known for his scholarly manner. One year the campus was covered in ice during a storm, but classes and chapel met as usual. Anyone else making announcements would have simply warned students to be careful on the sidewalks. But the beloved chemistry professor said this instead: “Remember, folks, the coefficient of friction is zero!”
Another time, Pryor made a slight blunder when reading the promo for a new dining option on campus that sold nachos. Not being familiar with that particular delicacy, he said, “Nockos are now on sale in the Student Center!”
For other epic mispronunciations from chapel, see YouTube.
Announcement duos have been a thing. Some years ago, Craig Jones and Mickey Pounders teamed up for a series of comic skits. Next came the “Grumpy Old Men,” as students Pete Vann and Marcus Neely imitated Lemmon and Matthau from the 1993 film and complained about everything, blaming Harding’s president for anything they didn’t like. In the 2010s, a couple of guys named “Cliff and Clax” hit the announcement circuit. I recently asked Dr. Clifton Ganus if he thought they’d ask us back. He said, “I doubt it. I think they are trying to improve chapel.”
And while you know Logan Light for his hard work as the assistant dean for chapel, the announcements he made as a student were epic.
Some speakers really had a gift for cracking us up. Craig Jones was always a hit in chapel with his impressions of Harding icons. Don Diffine dished out one-liners as “Nerdly Greenback” for years. And B. Chris Simpson could turn five minutes of screamingly funny comedy into a moment of spiritual insight that left you stunned. His chicken biscuit devo is the stuff of legend.
Homecoming chapels have provided some hysterical moments. On the day we previewed “The Wizard of Oz,” Dr. David Burks at first seemed nowhere to be found to make announcements. Suddenly, that familiar voice said, “Good morning to each one of you,” as he was lowered from the rafters on a floating ring that would later hold Glinda the Good Witch. The audience went wild, as they did another year right after Dr. Bruce McLarty finished making announcements before the musical preview. The stagehands cleared the stage, carrying off the chairs and podium. Then they lifted McLarty and carried him into the wings, too.
Or there was the alumni chapel when Dr. David Smith (class of ’67) was sharing stories of his college days until his wife Linda bounded onstage to describe how things really were. To summarize her experience as a woman on campus surrounded by desperate Bible majors, she quoted Psalm 56: “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me.”
And then there was the year of “Pirates,” where the cast got to check something off their bucket list after the musical preview in chapel. At the end, the pirates got to send the audience away with “You arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre dismissed!”
Groan if you must. That won’t stop me from sharing more stories soon.