Can chapel work with a non-Christian audience? – Part Two

What happens when you throw a bunch of experienced South Australian chaplains together with one tough question? Read on and find out.


One of the things we’ve used in the past at our school is a thing a called juke box worship where we allow the kids to nominate some songs that are their favourites and I’ll say “we’ll use that in worship provided that the content is appropriate and I can find a connect with a Christian theme or message”. So we are trying to get a buy in from them.

our attendance is great, 300 kids every time, the chapels always full…but it’s a furphy because they are compelled to be there


We’ve had some conversations about finding opportunities for opt in. It’s interesting to see what some of the senior staff think about that. But I’m really curious to pursue it. I sort of joke about it at clergy conferences and things where people talk about attendance at church and I say “oh our attendance is great, 300 kids every time, the chapels always full’. But it’s a furphy because they are compelled to be there, it’s not an option. And I don’t have magical, spiritual glasses where I can see who actually wants to be here, who’s getting something out of this, who would rather be anywhere else but here. I think that would be something I would love to see. Does anyone have optional chapel services?


I know they do. Joe’s spoken about it and I think its fortnightly at his school. I think it’s Eucharist and it’s definitely Chapel and its voluntary and most students go, not most receive communion, but most choose to go.


What do they have to do if they don’t go to chapel?


I actually think it’s a study lesson, which a lot of our senior student, that’s what they want instead of Chapel, yet despite that they choose to go to the community event.


That’s got to be one of the harder things to work out. It’s got to be like for like. Someone has made the suggestion, “oh you could do worship at lunch time”. I’m not running them at lunch time, that is not fair, it’s not like for like. My suggestion would be have it as  part of the pastoral care program, it could be running something similar or a chapel service so they are contributing and are involved in some sort of positive reflective space of some description, either in a chapel service or in their home groups or something like that.

the kids come to chapel knowing that it is community time for everyone


One thing they have here, because we have a whole school Chapel, is that it is for the whole school community. It’s made clear to all the staff and admin staff as well, anyone who wants to be at chapel is encouraged to come. Admin staff will come as well as other staff. So I guess the kids come to chapel knowing that it is community time for everyone and it’s not just them that have to come. It works because it is a whole of school chapel. In a school where you have five chapel services and different sub schools doing it you don’t have that dedicated time. Having a whole of school worship does make a statement.

The other thing I wanted to add was about the Eucharist. As a defender of the Eucharist, we do four a term, I think if I was to ask people in the parish, “what does communion mean to you?” they either wouldn’t be able to answer or they’d come up with lots of different answers. It doesn’t fall into the same category as “do you believe or do you not believe”, it’s not a head space thing. Communion is an experiential affective thing and people feel something from having communion or they feel some sort of presence from God. A lot of people at my last parish said that the most special time in the whole service was the quiet time after they had gone back to their seat after communion. So I sort of feel like giving the kids in the school an experience of affective stuff and it can be communion, but its not all about believing this or that, it’s actually an experience. Worship can be something that makes you feel peaceful or it changes your feeling about yourself, it helps you come out feeling better about yourself knowing God loves you. It can be a felt thing.

Communion is an experiential affective thing and people feel something from having communion or they feel some sort of presence from God


And it’s a sensory thing, beyond seeing and hearing it. It was interesting when I was working with a couple of kids at recess time before the Ash Wednesday service, they were practicing their reading or singing, and she asked,  “is this the service where we get the cross I really like that, I like it when we get bread too.” So for her there was that sense of when they come forward and receive something. I was disappointed because I thought she was a student who would have understood what we were on about but not to the extent that I thought she did. But she liked it and quite in an unaffected way.


If you’ve got the choice of them understanding it and not liking it or liking it and not understanding it   you’d go for liking it I reckon.


Because we’re sort of a bit new to Eucharist we’ve asked the students beforehand to give a vague idea of how many might be receiving. And I think just about everyone that we’ve done so far the numbers who have actually received have always been more than those who said they would.


That’s lovely to hear because when I was doing individual class Eucharist at St Columba, sometimes it would only be me and the teacher and other times it would only be me and that just felt very strange.  I mean they’d have prepared the prayers, they’d read the Bible, you know they’d participated, but none of them were seeking communion.

I think that takes some courage for a teenager to do that. To stop that tide of momentum and then to participate when they want to participate


I think every Eucharist we have I’m always surprised at some of the students who do participate. I think “wow wouldn’t have picked you’”, and especially those kids, when it starts to get momentum of those kids just walking past, where they don’t even stop for a blessing, and then one kid will sort of stop and put their hands out. And I think that takes some courage for a teenager to do that. To stop that tide of momentum and then to participate when they want to participate. And I’m often surprised at who the kids are that do that.


I’ve wondered if there is a link between kid’s who play sport at the sort of level that have end of season presentation night and those who are more reverential in chapel. I wonder if it brings them a step closer to responding to the formality and the community aspect, understanding the corporate nature of it and being respectful.

I think that liturgy is not entertainment but it needs to be entertaining.


Having done this for some years, I found myself being very liturgical. I really find it uncomfortable to try and be un-liturgical so when I’m being un-liturgical I’m being liturgical. So when we have a general kind of thing I always think it must be the bible reading, it must be a prayer, it must be a song and it always falls into that. And I think that liturgy is not entertainment but it needs to be entertaining. I think you could lead the liturgy as though you are reading the phone book and it would be as boring as heck, but you could lead the liturgy in such a way and have the energy at the front which I think brings the kids with you. I think we had proved that when we were at St Columba’s. I find the liturgy a very useful thing and I like it a lot.


I find that it is helpful to because it taps into something that is bigger than us, it is a reminder that we have an historic faith and it’s something that has been going on for an awfully long time and it also taps into that tradition. I think it helps guard against personalising too much and trying to accommodate to every individual in the room. It’s never going to happen. Liturgy and tradition transcend that, it needs to be engaging and whoever is involved with the services needs to be engaged with it and really inhabit that. I think liturgy it a fantastic tool because you suddenly get into a different rhythm. This isn’t a school assembly where we are trying to keep your attention or trying to compete with worldly passions. No this is a different rhythm that we are engaging in and it is kind of set and the words have been provided. It’s not something I’ve come up with because I’ve thought “oh this will be good for you”, no this is a tradition.

The Glennie

I think it’s a great resource. I think the liturgy answers a lot of those questions. How do you do ministry with mostly non-Christian people? Well from experiencing youth ministry from the past, you don’t do Eucharist that’s for sure, you don’t do the things that they don’t believe. You sit and you meet and you read the bible and maybe introduce prayer once they become comfortable. You couldn’t do a Eucharist I don’t think. You couldn’t do a service but because we have the liturgy we have this tradition that creates a framework and a space and you can do that and expose students to this experience which they never would have otherwise. As long as we are clear that there is no expectation that you do believe, it not what this is about you are welcome experience and pursue whatever it is you want.

you learn as your initiated into the community


We are going to trial a chapel service which is based around meditation and mindfulness and opening and closing with Christian prayers. We want to do something where they might say “well I don’t actually believe in God YET – but this mindfulness meditation is helpful”.


I think that is how corporate stuff works in all sorts of ways. I remember growing up in scouts and you wear the uniform before you understand what it really means. Then you learn as your initiated into the community and at such a time you when decide “this is a load of rubbish I’m not interested” then opt out. But I think as long as there are those occasions where you can have conversations, that’s why I think it’s important to know that the chapel  services doesn’t exist in a bubble separate from the college life. I always want to make sure there are those opportunities or those conversations. I might have told kids really frankly if you honestly feel like this a breach of your human rights, that you are being forced and initiated into a religion you do not believe in and its appalling please do go home to your parents and talk to them about it. If you want me to talk to them I’m happy to do that because that will be appalling that you will be forced into something that is indoctrination. I don’t think that’s what we’re doing, and I’ll explain why we do what we do and how I justify that. But you need to pursue, that I think that’s right and proper.

So long as there are those opportunities for kids to explore. When I read the Bible and kids groan and  I say, “what is that groan, there’s no need for that” and they say, “you are forcing religion on us”, “no I’m not I’m reading from a text that every generation has deemed t worthy of passing on and you think it’s not important.  Don’t scoff at something that has endured for so long. This stuff is important whether you believe it or not, it is important it has shaped the world that we are in, its something that a lot of people believe. If you don’t know anything about it you might not understand the world in which you live. It is right and proper for you to understand these things and that’s something that we in their school believe and that’s why we see to instruct you in these things not to force you to believe but so then you mind understand more fully the world that you live.”


It’s interesting that that’s the perspective of the kids. That we force them to believe but then you’ve got the kids that do come to faith, through the ministry that we do in schools and that do put their hand up in the face of a peer group that maybe is predominantly against it and say, “yeah I’d love to be confirmed.”


At the beginning of the year, at a junior school induction an old scholar had come back because her brother was being inducted and she came up to me and told me, “I have been meaning to catch up with you because I have become a Christian”. I said, “that’s really lovely tell me what happened?” She said “It was schoolies week and I decided I didn’t want to go. I had these friends inviting me to church all year so I went to church”. She had been baptised. She was really enthusiastic. So sometimes the fruit of our labour may be later and in someone elses vineyard.


Andrew Mintern – Chaplain, St Peter’s Woodlands Grammar School

Dave MacGillivray – Co-ordinating chaplain, Trinity College

Ruth Mathieson– Chaplain Trinity College

John Morton – Chaplain, Pedare Christian College

Michael Lane – Chaplain Pulteney Grammar School

Jane Bailey – Director Spirituality St Columba College

Theo McCall – Chaplain St Peter’s College

Stuart Langshaw – Acting Chaplain St Columba College

 Adelaide Chaplains

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