Features In Focus

Conversations with the Chapel

Community isn’t just a nice word, it’s part of the King’s mandate.

Budget cuts loom at the University of King’s College. Even so, Father Gary Thorne, the university chaplain, smiles at everyone he crosses during the day; small moments of calm in the midst of a financial storm.

Father Gary Thorne (Photo: Leah Gerber)

For it is a storm. The King’s Financial Task Force reports a $1.1 million shortfall this year, and states $500,000 is still needed in extra revenues or savings in 2014/2015. The chaplain’s demeanour is calm, but how will the chapel fair during the tough decisions ahead? Is it a foundational tradition that will continue to uphold the school, or has the time come to let go?
The Atlantic School of Theology took over the instruction of Anglican priests at King’s in 1971. At that point the chapel took on a new identity formed by the intellectual community of the Foundation Year Program. Thorne says, “what was established had the same sort of universal character that was for all people, at all times.”
In 2009 the Diocesan council rated university chaplaincy as a low-priority for funding, and in 2011 stopped paying Thorne’s salary. King’s took on that cost to maintain the chaplaincy position.
The chapel provides the space and activities that put philosophy into practice and in doing so creates community on campus.
“I know some students who build tremendous friendships through that community,” says Nick Hatt, dean of students. “I would say that’s probably the biggest gift that the chapel makes for students on a regular basis.”
Community isn’t just a nice word, it’s part of the King’s mandate. In the 1993 governing document “The Role of the University,” the college charges itself not only to teach the culmination of Western thought, but also to “stimulate concentrated reflection upon it,” and stresses the importance of “community and active participation, which has always been a great strength of the College.”
Take Will Barton for example. He graduated in 2013 with a degree in Early Modern Studies and German Language. He says like most students, he had the big questions “everyone probably asks them self at some point.” Like “how do you be in this place called earth?” In his third year, Barton met people at the chapel willing to fully engage with these subjects, and who challenged him to become “more fully myself and who I actually am.”
Barton is not the only student to seek and find community in the chapel. Natasha Conde, chapel co-ordinator, says each year approximately 275 first year students participate in a chapel-sponsored program like a hike, retreat, potluck, free concert or volunteer opportunity.
George Cooper, the university president, says that examined from a purely fiscal standpoint, the chapel’s choir draws a lot of attention to the university. “We don’t believe (the choir) costs money at all,” he says. “In fact, it’s at the very worst revenue neutral, but we think it’s actually more than that.”
According to Cooper, the choir has a net cost of $60,000, and maintains a group of about 20 dedicated students, so the school’s commitment level to the chapel is strong.
Not much is sacred during budget cuts however, and nothing is off the chopping block. But the chaplain says he isn’t worried. Thorne says the chapel is used to facing pressure. In fact, he doesn’t mind it.
“I think the chapel always should have to give an account of itself,” he says with a smile, “and I think that’s a good thing.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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