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Studying Worship on Seminary Campuses: Reflections

A collection of responses from the Seminary Chapel Colloquium.

After their participation in the Seminary Chapel Colloquium, each individual was asked to answer a few key questions for reflection.  Their answers are below:


1. In our time together, what was the most significant thing you learned about worship and theological education?

  • That its place in theological education is, across the board, poorly understood by any but those who lead and manage it. (ie: the most significant thing was realizing that it's not just [where I work] that folks don't know why we do what we do).
  • It may sound simplistic but the most significant thing I learned was how much thought, planning, energy and time is put into chapel.  I realized that twice a week for 20 minutes can't possibly contain and maybe can't even facilitate all that chapel could and should be.  I felt as though, especially in perusing the binder, there is so much more that can be done, especially in working toward a balance between meaningful worship for seminary students, faculty, staff and stretching people to experience new forms of worship that may not initially be their cup o' tea.  In other words, the most significant thing I learned was how much effort it takes to balance worship and theological education.
  • Although I already knew this, it was helpful to hear “live” how much difference the different theological understandings of worship, as well the denominational/ecclesial structures, influence understandings of the place of worship in theological education.  It was helpful to see the range of models for leadership of seminary chapels as well as the range of experience/expertise expected among those who provide leadership (e.g., from an MA student to a PhD liturgical studies professor, and non-ordained vs. ordained leadership).
  • I was amazed that there are so many schools where the chapel worship experience seems to be a pretty low priority for the faculty members.  I would think that if faculty members posture themselves in a "What does it matter?" sort of way, then that will rub off on the students, administration, and staff.
  • For many in our conversation group and around the country, the chapel experience seems to have a "practice worship" or "learning to worship" or even "worship teaser" function – a little of this, a little of that. Several in our conversation group at Fuller and several others around the country are teaching in settings where there are many denominations represented and a prevailing mood of ecumenical thought.  I see the danger of learning from only those who are like you, and also the great value of learning from Christians whose worship traditions and priorities are quite different.  This said, our seminary chapel services are not experimental in any way.  There is never a sense of "Let's try this."  We do that teaching in the classroom in a number of different classes, both worship and preaching.  As odd as it may seem, I had never really divided my thinking in such a way as to critique chapel worship as either experiential or educational. I think it is always both.  Theology and doxology must go together.

2. What is one question you will continue to wrestle with during the coming year?

  • How to communicate the educational value of what I do.
  • How can we maneuver and manipulate the structures in place to give us more time and resources to highlight chapel.  Could this be the center hub of community life at [our seminary]?  What else, beside or beyond chapel, can help us to bring the spiritual nurture of future pastors into focus (prayer times, groups, prayer rooms, special praise services???)
  • What are the common expectations we have of worship in theological education?  Does it play as important a role as some of us think it does?  Can we avoid duplicating the “consumer-satisfaction” approach that is becoming common in so many congregations and, if we have already been trapped by this, how can we repair it?  Especially in the context of education and formation, the “customer” is not always right.  What does it mean that the seminary is not the church but is part of the church (at least for some of us in denominational schools)?
  • Our denominational church polity would not encourage or allow chapel services to include Communion.  I suppose that it was shocking to me that so many hold to the view that real worship always includes Word and Table. I wonder if there is any biblical support for such a notion.

3. What is one new thing you are eager to try in the coming year? i.e. one practice that you may introduce, a current practice you wish to modify, etc.?

  • To write about we do in chapel – for the people [where I work], yes, but I've done that some already; the new commitment is to write about it with a wider audience in mind.
  • I want [our seminary] to begin examining this thing we call "chapel" from the roots up.  I want to use surveys to assess what chapel currently means to people in the community, what their expectations are and how/whether spiritual and educational needs are being met in and through chapel as we currently practice it.
  • I have already begun using the materials of our conversation and your data gathering to assist in a conversation our seminary is having about the future leadership of our chapel and the ways in which we might revise our current organizational structure for that leadership.  This is also an area in which I would like to see us do more research: how is a chapel ministry organized, what is the planning process and who is responsible for it, how does it relate to the life of the whole school?

Notable Quotes:

Theology and Doxology

It is important to note from Romans 1-11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated.  On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology.  It is not possible to worship an unknown god.  All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done.  It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1-11 which provoked Paul's outburst of praise in verses 33-36 of chapter 11.  The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God.  Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry.  Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public and private devotion.  It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.

On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology.  There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God.  God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation.  No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul.  Our place is on our faces before him in adoration.

As I believe Bishop Handley Moule said at the end of the last century, we must "beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion."

— John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World, InterVarsity Press, 1994.

For more notable quotes, see Chip Stam’s Worship Quote of the Week website.

A prayer for Seminary Chapel:

Holy Spirit,
Help me to withhold judgment
of what is strange and new to me.
Use this service of worship
to deepen my belief in God,
to expand my understanding of the gospel,
to strengthen my bonds with all people
and to serve more faithfully Jesus Christ
in whose name I pray.  Amen.

— Thomas Troeger in Trouble at the Table, Doran & Troeger (Abingdon, 1992), p. 148.