|Though the venues and technology have changed through the years, chapel remains one of the most enduring and significant spiritual traditions of Messiah College. (Left) In early chapels, the college president often spoke to a modest number of students gathered in the lower level of Old Main. (Right) Bathed in the glow of sophisticated lighting and projected lyrics, more than 2,000 students now worship together in common chapel services, held in Brubaker Auditorium.
Messiah College’s spiritual heritage profoundly shapes its rituals and traditions. In the beginning, the College and its founding church were so closely connected they were practically indistinguishable. Because they shared so many members, Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home and the Brethren in Christ Church quite naturally formed joint traditions and rituals. Church leaders combined early Commencement with a Love Feast, a service of communion, self-examination, repentance, reconciliation, and the washing of one another’s feet, just as Christ washed his disciples’ feet. This ritual provided a convenient way to connect parents of graduating Brethren in Christ students with others from across the country.
Past traditions such as revival meetings and hymn sings have also joined alumni together in shared spiritual experience. Harold H. Engle ’37, a retired physician and longtime chair of Messiah College’s Board of Trustees, recounts a particularly significant revival meeting. “It was very meaningful for many of us,” he recalls. “That’s when I dedicated my life to service to the Lord.” The preaching of Brethren in Christ Bishop Charlie Byers, Sr., sparked a spiritual awakening among many students that night. Several would later become church and community leaders.
One of Messiah College’s most enduring spiritual traditions is chapel
service. Since the College’s founding, students have come together regularly to worship, pray, and learn. In 1911, these services consisted of a handful of students gathering in Old Main’s first floor chapel. Today, Messiah College’s 2,900 students still come together for chapel but can now choose from a wide array of chapel experiences. They may opt to attend Tuesday and Thursday common services; select elective chapels like Word Alive, featuring worship and expository Bible teaching; and Just Praise, providing a time of multicultural worship; or explore some of the diverse alternative chapels offered at various times of the day, examining topics such as “Gender, Faith, and Film,” “The Bible and Justice,” and “Where Was God During the Tsunami?” While required chapel attendance has its proponents and critics, Messiah College’s commitment to regular times of corporate worship demonstrates the priority the College places on nurturing students’ spiritual development and provides a cadence for students’ campus experience.
Just as Messiah’s chapel experience has undergone change, rituals evolve over time as communities grow and mature. Under the guidance of its parent denomination, Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home, with its high school academy, eventually transformed into Messiah Junior College. And in 1963, Messiah College came into its own as an accredited four-year college, with a student body of approximately 140. Over time, as the student population continued to grow, the College and the Brethren in Christ Church developed separate, but related, identities. In 1972, the denomination and Messiah College formed a covenantal relationship, rather than a legal ownership arrangement. In the same way a child eventually carves out an identity apart from his or her parents, Messiah College began to establish new traditions that, while rooted in its heritage, were distinctly its own.
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