SOAPBOX: CHAPELS NOT RESERVED FOR RELIGIOUS

MATTHEW HOUSIAUX

mjhousiaux12@ole.augie.edu
 
 
SoapBox
 
 
 
Matthew Housiaux

The Chapel of Reconciliation is located at the heart of the Augustana College campus. It is at once a wood-paneled relic of 1980’s architecture and very visible monument to the school’s Christian values. Where they have proliferated, chapels tend to (although not always) evoke a deep tradition of belief and reverence. They are ostensibly only buildings, but also something more.

When worship and praise have ceased, chapels may be transformed into veritable safe havens of contemplation, reflection and rejuvenation. The need to indulge these feelings is by no means limited to those who pray.

For those who endure it on a daily basis, life on a college campus is rigorous mental folderol. In addition to the cerebral calisthenics stipulated by academic learning, there are also the rigors of keeping one’s schedule straight and maintaining a manifold coterie of social contacts.

More often than not it resembles the teetering climax of a discotheque cocaine binge. The whole process stutters manically forward until puttering out for breaks and holidays and then recommencing. A chapel may serve to harmonize this jittery, breakneck cycle.

If one is creative, a “chapel” may seemingly be situated anywhere. The word has religious roots, but is easily translated into more secular terms. In either case, it is a “sanctuary,” or “a place of safety and refuge.”

Under the right conditions, coffee shops, bedrooms and local parks could all be chapels of one form or another. More often than not, its location remains invisible except to those who have inexplicably found solace within its confines.

Unfortunately, this ambiguity can also stultify. When only one person is privy to a chapel, the line between solitude and isolation blurs, presenting a new want of community and fellowship.

In overtly religious chapels, this confusion occurs less frequently. At the Chapel of Reconciliation, worship is held each day of the week, excluding Saturday, with Catholic mass offered every Sunday and the first Tuesday of each month. Crosses, artistic renderings of the passion and other standard Christian accoutrements festoon the interiors. With its form and function so explicit, those who are not religious may feel unfortunately discouraged from utilizing the space for the more general purpose of meditation and respite.

In reality, the specifically religious notations of a chapel can often enhance its ability to condole and revitalize myriad types of people. It is not because God’s voice is more audible in such a setting; how and if one hears God is, in these circumstances, a tangential matter.

Nor is it because the building itself is innately blessed in one form or another. While the décor and the worship services are signals of specific, not necessarily shared, dogma, they are also reminders of an exalted heritage.

Even for those who are not religious, there is something inspiring to be found in the long history of individuals who have invested themselves in a particular space, searching for the respite of a chapel. The same could be said of a mosque, a synagogue, a Buddhist temple, or any other sacred place.

All are chapels of a different name or, rather, a chapel is the Western, Christian permutation of each of them. A coffee shop, a park or a bar may all perform this function to similar effect, but never in such an overarching, almost mystical context.

The Chapel of Reconciliation is not in itself a beacon of succor for the Augustana campus. Rather, it is the people who itinerantly inhabit the building, searching for a short break from their rigorous lifestyles, who provide its comforting aura.

Augustana students of all spiritual stripes and denominations should consider adopting the school’s chapel as their own. Not only would such widespread use continue to strengthen its legacy for future denizens, it would also effectively facilitate discussion and promote diversity on campus. Divinity is not necessary to make a place divine.

Matthew Housiaux is a sophomore journalism and history major from Brookings, S.D.