Following the end of its 200-year relationship with the United Church of Christ last May, Battell Chapel has begun attracting more students with its nondenominational services.
Battell’s services, now open to students of all religious denominations, have assumed a less traditional form, incorporating responsive songs along with traditional hymns and encouraging congregational participation. Pastors and student deacons said the changes have led to an increase in the number of students attending the services, and that church-goers appear to be exceptionally diverse.
“As the University Church, we are an open and welcoming organization,” Rev. Frederick Streets, University chaplain and senior pastor of the church, said. “We are open to all faiths and journeys.”
Interim Associate Pastor and Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said she has also noticed an increase in the number of students participating in various church activities following Battell’s efforts to attract all members of the student body.
“The University’s public worship has become more inviting to students,” Highsmith said. “We have worked very hard to reach out to them. It has meant a lot more student participation, students offering gifts as music, reading, ushering, etc.”
Student Deacon Andrew Beaty ’07, who also attended Battell’s services before the change, said that although accepting the service’s new form initially represented a challenge for the Battell community, the switch ultimately proved to be a success.
“Initially, there were some problems in terms of trying to figure out what worked best,” he said. “But by second semester, things really came together. It has been largely well-accepted by the student community at Battell.”
Along with the changes in its service, Battell revived its student deacons program in September. The program, which had lapsed in recent years, recruits students to provide leadership in worship, programming and outreach to the student community. Marisa Green MUS ’06, a longtime member of the church choir who recently became a student deacon, said her new role allows for more meaningful participation in the church service.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to get to know the church staff better,” she said. “I’ve had a chance to participate in reading and putting together and executing the service.”
But during Battell’s lively services, deacons are not the only ones openly expressing their faith. Beaty said he noticed that regular student church-goers were also very responsive to calls for participation throughout the service.
“People have responded generally well to the service itself,” Beaty said. “I like it myself, it’s very open and affirming, very ecumenical, and it includes rather than excludes.”
In keeping with its new character, the church has hosted a diverse group of preachers this year, both from inside and outside the university. Green said she thought the speakers’ presence contributed significantly to the high attendance.
“I think we’ve seen a pretty great variety and attendance from week to week,” she said. “This has a lot to do with the fact that we have different preachers. Many people are drawn to some of their high profile.”
Commenting on the recent “I Agree With Adam” campaign launched by evangelical Christian campus groups, Streets emphasized Battell’s commitment to openness and tolerance, encouraging students to familiarize themselves with a variety of religious beliefs.
“It is important for students to realize that their expression of faith is only one of many Christian views on campus,” Streets said. “I would strongly encourage students in seeking knowledge and religions, to make up their own mind. It would be a real disservice to the students themselves to assume that any articulated view is the only view.”
Streets said the church was not invited to consider being a member of the campaign and was not aware of it until it was launched.