February 05, 2010 | Lynn Rosendale

Calvin education professor Robert Keeley is studying the impact of high school chapel on young people’s faith.

As a student chapel leader, Zach Russell is always looking for ways to engage the students at Lake Worth (Fla.) Christian High School in worship in the few minutes that are specifically designated for this each day.

"My goal is to speak to their hearts more—not just play music and have them sing, but get them really connected to the Lord,” Russell said.

Doing that, he admitted, is not always easy. That’s one of the reasons he joined more than 150 other high school students and staff members at the Calvin Symposium on Worship last week for a special seminar on Christian high school chapels.

The three-day seminar, initiated by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) in 2009, drew the interest of 25 schools last year; this year that number increased to 32 high schools from across North America.

Faith formation

Calvin education professor Robert Keeley, host of the seminar, is studying the impact of high school chapel on young people’s faith. “The question I have been studying is how does or how can chapel do a better job of forming the faith of kids? I’m finding that chapel has the potential of being formative; it helps us become the people of God.”

School administrators like Tim Hall, dean of students at Westminster Christian Academy (St. Louis, Mo.) recognize the importance of chapel, but struggle with how to do it well. “We’re here wrestling as a school with how to develop a chapel program that we hope plays an increasingly formative role in the lives of our students,” he said.

Despite the acknowledged importance of chapel programming, resources for producing  chapel are usually limited. That’s part of the appeal of the seminar, which is funded by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship with a Lilly Foundation grant. Travel and expenses are covered for the participating students and staff members.

"This is something we would never have the resources to do on our own,” said Matt Driediger, assistant principal and chapel coordinator at Vernon (B.C.) Christian School.  “We’re a young high school, and we’re still developing our chapel program, so I am interested in any wisdom, advice, experience that I can get.”

The seminar began with several sessions intended just for the high school students and their school administrators. Joint gatherings included a presentation by Calvin chaplain Mary Hulst on “God is Speaking! How do we Listen?” and a presentation on “Worship and Our Faith Vocabulary,” by Betty Grit of the CICW.

Practical advice

Afternoon workshops featured Calvin’s student worship apprentices who gave practical advice on incorporating music, words, and arts and technology into chapel services.

"The music session on how not to have all of the instruments play the same thing was really good,” said Austin Novakowski, a student chapel leader and musician at King’s Christian School in Salmon Arm, B.C. "Their bad example is what we sound like. I think we learned something about making it sound better, though.”

"What I’m hoping to take from this is how to make chapel interesting for students who aren’t interested,” added Alyssa Kornelson, also of King’s Christian School.

The second and third day of the seminar, participants joined in sessions with the other symposium attendees.

"The presence of the high school students is energizing to everybody,” said Keeley. “It adds a lot to the symposium.”

Student camaraderie

Calvin student Worship Apprentices lead worship for high school students at the Worship Symposium.

Ben deRegt, chaplain at Lynden (Wash.) Christian High School, has been bringing students to the symposium for several years—even before the high school seminar format was introduced—and has adopted many insights and ideas. “If you were to compare our chapels now to 10 years ago, you would see the change,” he said. “We even developed our own worship apprentice program like you have going on here.

"I am immensely grateful for what Calvin is doing here. It is very rare,” he said. “There is nothing else that I know of geared specifically to high school worship. For our high school students to come here and see the college students here involved in worship is really motivating and inspiring.”

DeRegt said his students also find camaraderie among the other students: “Being here helps our students realize that other schools are wrestling with the same things we are. We’re not the only school that has students that could care less about chapel; we have common struggles and can learn from each other’s struggles.”

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