King’s introduces contemplative chapel services to combat COVID fatigue
It’s been a time of extra stress and weariness lately due to COVID, that's why Reverend Julianne Gilchrist, who is filling in for lead Campus Pastor Tim Wood, is reinventing chapel at King’s to meet the needs of students.
“I think right now in our culture, but maybe more so in the university years, [living through] COVID people are generally tired, anxious and overwhelmed. Usually you start to hear of students feeling stressed around midterms, but I was hearing them entering the school year already overwhelmed, already stressed.”
So Gilchrist decided to change things up. Instead of a weekly 45-minute worship service, as chapel was prior to COVID, it has sometimes become 20 minutes of quiet and contemplation in a darkened Knoppers Hall to give those attending the time and space needed to have a spiritual reset. Other chapel services have been held outside to take in nature; story chapels let someone from the King’s community tell a bit of their faith story; community chapels are a time of snacks and small group fellowship; praise and worship chapels focus on singing and music. The purpose of each one is to look at chapel through a lens of simplicity.
“The language I’ve been using about chapel is that I want it to be a place where people can take a deep breath and rest. Spiritually rest, emotionally rest and mentally rest from the busyness of the day.”
A few weeks ago chapel involved a music student playing her baroque flute followed by a silent practice called gospel contemplation that involves listening to a gospel story and really imagining it. An upcoming service will involve individually mulling over a scripture rather than having anyone talk about it.
“The use of imagination in prayer is actually an ancient tradition to allow our imaginations to be part of how we experience God,” Gilchrist explains. “I just don’t think we have many spaces for silence in our culture and in our churches, and so it’s trying to weave some more opportunities for spiritual rest that happens in silence.”
Gilchrist is also a trained spiritual director and says she loves meeting students one-on-one and giving them a space to reflect on and process their stories.
“I think one of the things that I love about university students is that they’re really at a place of figuring out if what they’ve been handed their whole life is really what they believe. It’s a space of struggle sometimes, but also a space of making their faith their own.”
At King's, students are also able to talk about issues of life and faith with their peers during weekly Discipleship and Resistance nights held in The Level. The breakout small group discussions are a good way for students to voice their opinions to each other before rejoining the larger D&R group for a deep dive into the topic of the night and related scripture.
Making space for spiritual practices on campus is important at a Christian university, as Gilchrist points out that King’s is about whole-person education and “the spiritual life is part of being a whole person.”