Written by Gabriel Huff // Photo by Macy Cox
The University commenced its new breakout chapel program last week, instituting 11 different chapel sessions across campus in an effort to make chapel more engaging for students.
The breakout chapel sessions will occur every Wednesday at 9 a.m. throughout the rest of the semester, featuring different themes and topics. Logan Light, assistant dean for Campus Life and chapel programs, began organizing the new chapel system last semester, noting the concept originated from President Mike Williams and Executive Vice President Jean-Noel Thompson.
“They were curious as to how we might be able to do that here in Harding,” Light said. “And so I knew in the last summer that we wanted to move toward this direction. And so we spent a good amount of time in the fall working through what type of breakout chapels would be good for students and how we could create a wide enough interest that we could really have students be able to get some more engagement in different ways.”
The start date was initially planned for Feb. 1, but a snowstorm that canceled in-person classes and partially closed the campus delayed its debut until the next week.
The sessions — consisting of women’s chapel, student athletes, international students, three “topical study” chapels, creative expression, home Bible study with Lisa Williams, Student Life, newly married or soon to be married discussion and worship chapel — are facilitated by different faculty, administrative and student leaders around campus.
“Some of it was hand-selected, and we went out and some popular professors we asked to be involved, people that we already knew that students enjoyed hearing from and engaging with,” Light said. “And then some others came by way of some of those meetings, where I would meet with them as part of a team to say, ‘Hey, would you guys do this chapel?’ And then from that meeting, they’d say, ‘Actually, we could do our own.’”
Dr. Heath Carpenter, associate professor of English, serves as one of the facilitators, leading a topical study on Lent with Dr. Mac Sandlin, associate professor of Bible, in the McInteer Bible and World Missions Center in room 150. The chapel analyzes themes of self-control, sacrifice and discipline.
“I think it’s cool that Logan and the administration are trying to more individualize chapel for particular groups,” Carpenter said. “I think the more choice people have, usually the more invested they are in the process.”
One of those more individualized breakouts is women’s chapel, led by Associate Dean of Students Kara Abston, assistant professor of mathematics Jill Davis and senior Anna Claire Williams in the Anthony and Wright Administration Building auditorium. The session focuses on worship with devotional thoughts, singing and special programs intentionally organized for female students.
“I hope that women get to see church that looks like them and sounds like them and will bring together a community of empowerment for women to hear the Gospel and then go tell people about it,” Williams said.
In the student athletes chapel, hosted in various locations, athletic director Jeff Morgan and other team coaches are leading sessions designed for student athletes to spend time together in both collective and team-specific chapels. All students will be allowed to attend the collective assembly. Team-specific gatherings are reserved for student athletes.
“I think anything we can do to draw closer together in our walk and draw closer to Christ in our walk — if we’re drawing closer to him, then that’s going to draw us closer together in our relationships,” Morgan said. “I think most of the coaches, and the different sports, I think that’s probably the primary goal: What can we do to help draw ourselves closer to Christ?”
Breakout chapel highlighted one of the primary functions of chapel’s new card readers, which were integrated last semester. The card readers have been stationed at entrances to breakout chapels for students to swipe their IDs as they enter the chapel rooms.
Junior Marissa Bennett has been attending a topical study chapel headed by Dr. Donny Lee, dean of the College of Education, in the Watson Center, where he addresses the skill and importance of discipleship.
“I like it because it’s more personable and we make more connections with others that we see everyday and then we learn more about them because he asks us questions,” Bennett said. “It just makes us think a lot more, too.”
Light said he believes the University will conduct breakout chapels every semester moving forward and is looking to expand the number of breakout chapel days to 10 next semester, keeping some of the same chapel sessions but introducing new ones, as well.
“I really think the concept of what we’re doing is really, really strong, and I’m really excited about it, and I hope that students find connection with it,” Light said.