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Thursday, July 22, 2010

"The relevance of school Chapel services" by L Botha

A topic of much discussion, usually on a Friday at about ten o'clock, is why Somerset College offers a chapel service for all students and interested staff members.

As those who are normally discussing the topic are students who have not particularly enjoyed - or found value - in the service, the commentary is often negative. Recently I have thought about why Somerset College offers a chapel service that is compulsory to all students, even though the College strives to be an environment that is welcoming and friendly to all religious groups. Surely favouring one religious group above the others is a contradiction to this ethos?

The first reason that comes to mind, and most likely, to the minds of others is that Somerset College is a Christian school. The College strives not only to give each student the necessary knowledge to handle the world, but also to bestow on each student a sound set of moral values that will enrich both their own and the lives of others. This is a worthy goal; surely it is worth the less than an hour that is spent on it every week?

However, as I thought further on the subject, in large part due to the inevitable discussion on the subject every Friday, I started to realised that there was another reason that the College holds a chapel service every week. Tradition. Chapel services are, not only in South Africa but in many other schools around the world, an expected part of school life. In almost every school I have heard of there are a few certainties: Assembly on Mondays, homework during the week and Chapel on Fridays.

I have never heard this reason spoken out loud before and I don't think that it is often recognized, or particularly appreciated when it is. It would seem odd for a prestigiuos school, like Somerset College, not to have a Chapel service at least once a week. Now that I have had this thought, I can't help but wonder if this isn't the real reason why we have Chapel every Friday. If this is the case, the argument that the aim of Chapel is to teach a sound moral system seems less meaningful. However, I think that there are ways to put this time to valuable use.

I don't think that Chapel should be removed as a part of College life. The moral lessons brought across by medium of religion are valuable and life enhancing. I just think that it should be every person's own choice on the way that they want to go about acquiring them. The saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink"; forcing students who gain nothing from Chapel services to attend them causes resentment and achieves nothing. Giving students the choice of whether to attend Chapel or not will make it more valuable for those who do go as they can be sure that they are going for their own benefit and not in order to uphold the school's reputation.


  1. I hadn't ever thought that Chapel may be purely for the sake of tradition...
    I agree: students should choose to attend

  2. This is a debate worth making more public -the entire school community should be allowed to enter into discussion on it.

  3. I feel that Chapel, along with religion for that matter, is forced upon us by the College and is thus fake and pretentious. The debate is a valid one but the way in which every.single.chapel.service is exactly the same in format, only differing in content and song, has bred a meaningless weekly period.

  4. I suppose that it does bring the school together, but i cant deny you have a strong argument..

  5. i think that we should not have to attend chapel if we do not wish to. i am an atheist and frankly i dont believe in a god or deity and i find it disrespectful that i have to listen to christian songs and bible stories.

  6. Sorry anonymous but your oppinion is rather herendous as God and religion is a vital part of our lives. With out religion we would turn into heartless, selfish human beings.

  7. I believe that Chapel should be optional like meeting slot in a way.

  8. I agree with matt,
    It should be our choice to attend chapel.
    It should be up to us if we choose to waste our time in chapel when we could be focusing on our education, eg: homework.

  9. i agree with anonymous.

  10. True but if it was optional no one would go to Chapel and no one would here about any meetings. So this might plunge Somerset College into chaos on Fridays.

  11. agreed. The school would fall into a cataclysmic void of death and deceit, a vacuum would be created sucking in the school along with all the students who attend it into what can be known as a modern and local black hole.

  12. To be honest the whole anonymous thing is getting a bit much... but the comment the last anonymous mad is so far my favourite

  13. I agree with everybody except you anonymous man, you know who you are!

  14. I do agree with choice.
    But Somerset College is a Christian school... Anglican, in fact. You know this when you sign up to attend the school.

  15. Yeah well the school doesn't allow facebook so I for one will have to remain anonymous for a few more hours.

    I agree that the chapel services are more for appearance than an actual demand. I am not coming from a biased point of view being christian myself, but the percentage of aethists and students who honour different religons must be taken into account despite being a predominately christian school.

    A chapel service is something that despite protest will continue.

  16. I agree with Alex... making chapel compulsory brins some klind of order. If chapel was just something you could go to, people could also feel intimidated and scared to show what they may believe in.

  17. I am in complete agreement with Leonard. Religion is a choice and therefore so too should be Chapel. I don't find it offensive, however (especially for people of different religions) it does become uncomfortable at times when we are forced to pray and listen to sermons. People that see no purpose in Chapel should not be forced to attend. After all, aren't we Somerset College?

  18. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink"; Amazing quote. I agree. Making the chapel compulsory will not make students religious or sudenly starting to like chapel, they will just go: "Oh no chapel again...boring" BUT others say "CHAPEL! Oh, i love it" so i think we should have a choice. If we had a choice we would then feel much better and gain much more responsibility and maturity for making that CHOICE.

  19. Many people in our school are religious. There are many that want to go to chapel and celebrate their god. We are taught as children to respect others. By letting others go to chapel and not denying them this right is respecting them. Okay I understand that many who are not religous don't want to go to chapel. But you signed up for that when you joined the school. Even though I do agree that they could make it more interesting...

  20. This is a Christian school. If a person is a different religion the school won't treat them any differently. When people signed up to attend this school they knew that it was a Christian school so I guest they have to attend the service no matter what problems they have with the chapel services.

  21. Come on Chaplain! Let us see your response.

  22. The last comment is very true. As established previously our school is a christian school and so chapel will continue despite protests.

    I do feel however that people who come from other religions should have the choice of going to chapel or not. But for all those who so quickly decide that they are atheist should take some more time to consider the possibility of a god. I myself am not sure of what to believe yet but I am still looking at both sides of the argument. Making ones mind up too quickly is not always the best option.

  23. you guys are all talking about the school falling into a black hole. what all of you are neglecting is the your "god" gave you the freedom of choice. therefore it is your choice to attend chapel or not. faith is not something that should be pushed upon the youth. the more you force it the more we shall rebel. it is up to us to make the decision if we want a "god" in our lives or not. it is not for the school to decide who we should be and how we should live our lives.

  24. I agree that a student should be able to have a choice to attend Chapel or not.I also agree that if students have a choice to come to chapel that the school will be in absolute chaos because of the notices and announces that are bing read in Chapel. This school is however mainly Christian but there is a percentage of students that follow different religions that should be taken into account. This topic should be made public in my opinion.

  25. I never actually thought about it , some students just attend and dont think about it , it is just like routine , but a good article

  26. I think that if you applied to go to the College, and knew that you had to go to the Chaple service every Friday, then you shouldn't be cross, because you knew what you were signing up for, and becos some people don't have the chance to go to church when they are at home, so they might enjoy Chapel.
    Stop hating and complaining.

  27. I agree with Matt vdv :)
    Attending chapel service should not be forced upon us to uphold the idea of a "prodigious school". It should be every individuals choice whether they want to attend the service or not. Especially for people, like matt, who do not believe in Christianity, or any other belief system for that matter. The school should allow for more individual growth, not just the creation of "tradition", which most students don't agree with.

  28. When I wrote this article I tried to be objective and consider both sides of the argument. I never suggested that the school should remove Chapel from the program. Instead I suggested that this time could be put to more valuable use for those people who are not Christian.

    The time spent in the Chapel is not solely dedicated to the actual service. The school uses this time to make important notices as well as the occasional award or acknowledgement. I think this is important as it both helps with the day to day running of the school and, perhaps more importantly, gives us the opportunity to acknowledge those deserving individuals and let them know that the school appreciates their contributions.

    As you can see by reading the above I have spilt Chapel into two separate sections. One section that is school related and the other spiritually related. What I suggest is keeping attendance to the first, or school matters, compulsory but making the second optional. This allows for as close as we are going to get to the best of both worlds.

  29. how can it even be a question. we are a CHRISTIAN school, we respect other religions but we are CHRISTIAN, how can you say it is "disrespectful" to force you to attend chapel when you have agreed to attend this school. i don't understand how this can even be an argument.

  30. LEONARD!!! You saw into the depths of my mind. I am reacting to the incredibly narrow minded comment recemtly posted at 9:29 AM. Yes, we are "Christain" school, and yes, technically speaking everybody signed away their freedom when they came to this school. But does that mean it shoudnt change? The fact that leonard points out is that chapel is perhaps not only for "moral teaching"and perhaps for the schools image. Another fact is that we sit their and are told, by certain narrowminded teachers, that we are wrong if we do not subscribe to their parochial form of religion. This directly contradicts the supposed "ethos" of the school and yet nothing seems to happen, maybe a slap on the wrist, but of course we would not know. The fact is that people are different, and although a certain amount of conformity is expected, should we really extend that to something as important as religious freedom? In fact, the only thing that makes it legally acceptable is that we signed away our freedom. But lets be honest, who comes to Somerset College for the Chapel services? If it were a government system that were doing this, then it would be seen repressive, and just a little primitive.

    So anonymous, do you see how this is an argument now?

  31. The school is a fixed environment and society doesn't allow for every individual to make a decision considering their personal benefits. I do however believe that Chapel service can be done differently to entertain every party involved.

  32. Matthew van der venterAugust 12, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    Firstly....who are you?
    secondly...i hate religion, it makes people in to little conformist sheep and makes decisions for them...
    thirdly...there is no proof of a deity or higher power, some stoned guy could have just written th bible in his state of mind.
    i do not believe we should have to attend a religious ceremony week in and week out for the christians, i am an atheist, deal with it, i dont care about religion in tyhis school or in this society..so count me out.

    but my main point to raise is this, what about other religions, like jewadaism for example, why must they have to attand another religions ceremonies. and wjhat about muslims, do we attend mosque with them? no, yet we force them to attend chappel, which is basicly church...school is not for religion, its for education, if we wanted to be religiously educated we would live in a convent...thats all i have to say....

  33. jesus is a kief guy.

    but thAT doen't mean he's gotta force me to worship him in a commercial way.

    Religion is a very personal topic and a huge part in everbodies lives.How we choose to worship and acknowledge him is ENTIRELY UP TO US.Being forced to go to chaple could make us uncomfortable and could make us feel as if our Christian fate is being forceds upon us.

    This is not what Christianity is about.How we worship the word of the Bible is our own choice.

    Chapel should be optional.

  34. A Different PerspectiveAugust 15, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    Some very interesting points have been raised on this subject, and I would like to thank Leonard for starting the discussion.

    Firstly, I disagree with those who think that religion is "forced upon us";
    all the school asks is that you respect its Christian foundation by attending a 20 to 30 minute sermon every friday. You don't have to make notes, you don't even have to listen. You just have to sit quietly and respect that others purposefully chose a school that provides Christian teachings.

    As Alex and ljose11 pointed out; making chapel optional will cause more conflict than it will solve, it will split the school into 2 groups. One group of dedicated Christians who want to gain a better understanding of their religion and another group who think it's a waste of time. And in the end (via peer pressure) there will be VERY few pupils left still attending chapel. Therefore I don't think optional Chapel is an option. It is either compulsory or NO chapel.

    Something that bothers me...
    I'm not sure when was the last time someone actually listened to one of the chaplain's talks, if you had been listening you would have realized that that 8 out of 10 times good moral values are being taught and the Bible is just the medium used. And yet every time we walk out of chapel there is negative vibes and students are complaining that they are being disrespected and the school is trying to convert them...HOGWASH!

    If you find it offensive being taught that you should be Caring, Loving, Forgiving and Respectful towards others, then yes chapel must be really horrible for you, but I don't believe that anyone can be against those values.

    This is only my opinion and I have tried to give it in an unbiased manner, which some of you seem to be struggling with:

    Matthew van der venter: "I hate religion"..that seems unbiased (note sarcasm) "makes people into little conformist sheep" ??why not BIG conformist sheep?? and my all-time-favourite, "some stoned guy could have just written th bible in his state of mind." lolz

    peggy... was just being peggy.

    Michael made some interesting points even if he was a bit melodramatic:
    "...we signed away our freedom."?? this is a school not a slave trade.

    Also Michael, you said that, "we sit their and are told, by certain narrowminded teachers, that we are wrong if we do not subscribe to their parochial form of religion." I assume that means you think that THEY are Wrong.
    Now let me ask you something. What makes you any less narrow-minded than they are, when you say that their religion is wrong. Just as there is no way to prove that "their parochial form of religion" is right, there is also NO way to prove it wrong... I'm just saying.

    Lastly, not to burst anyone's bubble or anything, you should know that Somerset College forms an association with the member churches of the Church Unity Commission (CUC) and that isn't about to change anytime soon, so unfortunately to those who despise friday morning chapel you will just have to endure because it isn't going anywhere.
    But maybe I'm wrong, and this discussion does spark the beginning of the end of compulsory chapel, in which case I am very interested to see how things develop.

    Again, this is just one person's opinion and I did not intend to offend or disrespect anyone (maybe some mocking towards vdv, but he was asking for it)

    All I want is to provide A Different Perspective.

  35. A different perspective wins.

  36. Frankly, i think that because we are a Christian school we have to consider giving people the opportunity to go to Chapel or not, because, as a Chritian myself I feel it is disrespectful and wrong to make people who dont want to listen to the word of God go to Chapel. You only have to listen to the comments of the students after Chapel to realize that the majority of the school doesnt want to be there. I just feel that by forcing these people to go to Chapel we are create a bad and negative conatation of God and the people who dont want to be in Chapel, dont deserve to be in Chapel.

  37. i feel that 1st, it shud be a choice to go. (and yes there will till be alot of people who will go but not as much) and 2nd that singing two christian songs in assembly is also a waste of time, as it is NOT chapel, it is assembly and other important things need to be said like notices.


    Well, sometimes melodrama serves a purpose - i was only being emphatic.
    You are missing the point. It is precisely because i am not narrowminded that i DO NOT think they are wrong. There is no way to conclusively prove that, i however do think it is highly unlikely that ONE FORM of ONE RELIGION is right and every other human being on the planet will suffer eternal damnation. What Mr. Cordwall said was offensive in that it disregarded every major (relevant in the modern world) religious and moral philosophy that mankind as created in one incredibly callous and shallow swoop.

    I never said they were wrong, it is however very unlikely that they are right. When your belief system is quantified by so little, and so specific, it becomes harder and harder to maintain. READ THE GOD DELUSION. I cannot in this forum go into the immense detail of the issue, but it is possible, through logic and rational analysis to LOGICALLY dismiss some inacuracies.

    Also, you miss the definition of narrowminded, it means to not consider any other point of view other than your own, something Mr. Caldwell does, and i do not. I keep an open mind.
    He might be right, but then again, so might i, and considering that my belief or lack therof is based on rational thought, i think it is safe to say that i probably am.

  39. (continued)

    indeed, the school is not a slave trade, that is just plain illogical. It is an organization, not a mental concept. What i was trying to say is that it is repressive.

    Your error of ad hominum - attack the man, even if you believe i was melodramatic - some emotion often forms part of a good article - that does not mean what i was saying was wrong, as you admitted. It really just seems a little petty

  40. I have enjoyed reading this commentary and its subsequent comments, and thank Leonard for opening up the debate with his balanced arguments.

    Before considering the issue of whether Chapel at Somerset College should be compulsory, we should first ask a different question, which will help us answer this one: Should Somerset College be a Christian school at all?

    If the answer is no, then the Chapel should be converted into a lecture theatre, Chaplain’s lessons and Chapel services should be dropped and any reference to the Christian faith should be removed from the Aims and Vision of the College.

    If the answer is yes, then the College needs to establish what it means in practice to be a Christian school (or a school with a Christian ethos, which is what our vision statement states). If the College chooses to have a Christian ethos, it considers Christianity and Christian teaching to be an important part of its core education. Subsequently, a weekly corporate Chapel service and Chaplain’s lessons are deemed to be as significant as attending assembly, playing sport or being part of a tutor group.
    The current position (as is correctly stated in some other comments) is that we are a school with a Christian ethos, and we are formally associated with the Church Unity Commission, which was formed by the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches. Chapel and the Chaplain’s lessons are therefore, I feel, a reasonable ‘minimum requirement’ for a school with a Christian ethos.

    I was interested to read Leonard’s argument that tradition is one of the reasons why we have Chapel services. I sincerely hope that this is not the main reason why we have Chapel (It is certainly not one of my reasons), as tradition can be as enriching and beneficial as it can be damaging and irrelevant. There are a number of schools with excellent reputations in South Africa who do not have Chapel services.

    I would love to continue this discussion with anyone who is interested and am glad that this new blog is engendering such interesting and sensible debate.

  41. i swear... if it werent for those lame-ass songs we sing...more than 50% of the students wouldnt mind coming to chapel and might even enjoy it. We arent in the 18 hundreds, there are a lot of cool new Christian songs out there and we are such a musical school....why not??