The sacred and the mundane

Maybe you’re more familiar with them than you think. Some nights, sonorous voices permeate the campus at 5 p.m. from this religious cornucopia. Perhaps you’ve heard glimpses from your Bay? Maybe you’ve travelled with them. They leave brightly in the morning every Thanksgiving and Christmas. You most definitely encountered them at matriculation. Them? The community and building that make up our King’s Chapel. The place originally intended for students to connect the intellectual and the practical. The place where we are to put our contemplation into spiritual practice.
The Chapel is currently under external review. Realistically, can the Chapel be of any use in this day and age? If non-Christians are to meditate there, are we being disrespectful to the chapel’s original intention?
The King’s Chapel community would hope that these are the last thoughts to enter your mind when you walk by the small stone chapel.
Karis Tees, a fifth year self-proclaimed Christian involved in multiple aspects of the Chapel, believes that it has the ability to provide the students with a place of meditation beyond those who consider themselves Christian. “There’s something about what happens in the chapel that feels like it’s an adequate response to the brokenness of the world.”
Tees says there is no attempt to evangelize in the services, as the emphasis is on the beauty of the chapel: something that reaches everyone regardless of faith.

(Photo: Ashley Corbett / The Watch)
(Photo: Ashley Corbett / The Watch)

There is a noticeable lack of students who don’t consider themselves Christian who are involved frequently with the chapel. However, if the Chapel community were to have it their way, this would not be the case. Father Thorne, the university’s chaplain, suggests that students are put off of the religious aspect of the Chapel: “It’s a strange prejudice of our society that you can read a book and somehow know what the book is about even though the book has been written in a Monastic setting. It was written at a time when there was no difference between philosophy and theology; it was all the same.” In fact, Thorne suggests that by keeping to the original Anglican texts, we’re being more inclusive of other faiths by not allowing ourselves to be caught up in the more progressive forms of Anglicanism. Essentially, he argues that keeping the Chapel as something of a museum piece of sixth century Monasticism is inclusive because of the focus on ‘The Divine’, rather than more contemporary understandings of ‘God’. “The chapel is all about conversion. Not to Anglicanism. Not to Christianity. But conversion to the good, the true and the beautiful. That’s the conversion that every young person who comes to university is seeking, even if they don’t know it,” said Father Thorne reclining in his chair, chin up and eyes closed.
But if the Chapel is just to be seen as a conversion to ‘the Good’, why do we have a chapel? The Dalhousie Multifaith attempts to draw students to the greater ‘Good’, with no explicit reference to a single religion.
Thorne argues that our refusal to expose ourselves to the Chapel while reading Christian thoughts in books, we are exhibiting our Western hubris:
“‘We think we understand the insight, and take the good out of every tradition and rise above it all. As soon as you leave the chair and walk out you think “Oh, those poor Egyptians, if only they knew what I knew. If only they were above things like me. It’s the western hubris.” Essentially, the snow-bearded chaplain believes that if we fully understand a particular spiritual tradition can we come to respect those of other spiritual traditions.  
“What (different religions) share in common is the Aristotelian notion of habit — how souls are shaped. How we come to love one another and ourselves in and through the particular habits of particular traditions.”
The King’s chapel is based off of the Oxford University Model, whose Magdalen Chapel was built between 1474 and 1480. The chaplain, Rev. Michael Piret in Oxford believes that his chapel has not experienced a clash of tradition and the contemporary. He attributes this harmony to a choral tradition that draws students of all faiths and of none to experience classic Anglican services such as Choral Evensong.
He claims that events such as these provide a spiritual space from which people of diverse backgrounds benefit, creating an environment for students to participate or not to, depending on what seems right for them.
This seems to be a nice idea in theory, but in practice, has the Chapel been helpful in any way to those of different backgrounds? It may be in the Chapel’s favour within the university to see themselves as inclusive, but is this practical?
Chris Parsons, a King’s alum who graduated in 2009, seems to think so. Parsons is Atheist, and identified as such throughout his studies at King’s.
“I was in a rough time in my life and I found through consistently going I had a contemplative space that was a lot slower and escapes rhythms of everyday life. Through the process of attending those events I struck up friendships and relationships with Father Thorne and students. The informal nature of those relationships is where I feel a lot of the good of the chapel comes from.”
But how does this compare to multi-faith communities like the centre at Dalhousie?
“I do think there is an advantage to it being the chapel, one of which is that it is part of the history of King’s. It’s part of the history that we need to grapple with and re-think. We can’t blow up that history, but we need to think of how to negotiate it,” says Parsons.
“The chapel has a diverse community, but relative to the King’s student body. Its ability to reach out to other faiths is constrained by the limits of King’s. King’s as a university has not done a good job of having a racially and ethnically diverse student body. The King’s chapel has not had to confront those sorts of questions because it’s a product of the fact that the university is very homogenous,” says Parsons.
“It’s not a Chapel problem.”

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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