The challenge of chapel

What is the nature of chapel?

One of the particular challenges that the Chaplains face as they minister in schools is the nature of the chapel service. In many ways the chapel service is the ‘shopfront’ for the Chaplain. This is not just because of the similarity in name but because it is the most public expression of the church in the school environment. The casual observer might think that chapel is one activity in the school which is settled in terms of purpose, but this is not the case. The evidence from School Chaplains is that the nature, purpose and practice of chapel is a particularly challenging issue.

it is the most public expression of the church in the school environment

I did some research ten years ago on possible tensions in the life of a school Chaplain. One of main issues that came up in the research is the nature and place of this service. It is a current and important issue in Schools that needs to be debated. The debate is happening on two levels, both a theological level and a pragmatic level.

What is the relationship between chapel and church?

One of the central theological questions concerns the relationship between chapel and church. In my research I found that three views prevailed in schools. The first view was that chapel is the same as Church. The second view was that it is anything but Church. The third view was that the school chapel service was something of a model of what Church might be like.

There are also a number of other aspects of the chapel service that are being explored by school Chaplains (and school leaders).  Some of these issues include the impact of the changing makeup of school communities (more from non-Christian backgrounds); new Diocesan initiatives or policies; the changing style of the local church service; as well as a consideration of the helpfulness or hindrance that the physical structures are.

It is a constant challenge for School Chaplains to know what to include (or remove) form the content of the chapel service to make the time helpful and relevant. One retired Chaplain, when looking back on his time in school ministry recently wrote ‘The weekly worship services were the other source of ‘tension’ in the Chaplain’s planning. Were these to be relevant, interesting, challenging, Anglican, or on what criteria were the services to be based?’  How true that still is.

It is a constant challenge…to know what to include or remove

Whilst the Chaplains who were surveyed (in my research) held different views on many of these issues, they also indicated that members of their school communities often held different views on many issues. This often made discussions about the nature and place of the chapel service in school life very interesting.

The chapel therefore continues to be a special focal point for consideration as Chaplains carry out their role.

How do you see the role of chapel in the life of your school? What is its nature and purpose?

Nick Foord Written by:

Nick worked in the international telecommunications industry before a change of direction saw him retrain for Christian ministry. He then served in various roles in four Anglican Churches – including as a Youth Worker, Senior Assistant Minister and Rector of a parish. For the last 16 years he has been working as the ‘Community Chaplain’ at SCEGS (Shore) school in North Sydney.


  1. Deborah Wilson
    July 13, 2016

    Thanks for posting. Would be really interested to see the results of your research. Will you be attending the ASA Conference in August?
    Chapel worship is a constant source of challenge for me. I include The Gathering ( greeting), Prayer for Purity, Short Bible reading,Talk, Hymn/Song, Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Blessing and Dismissal. But getting nature of content right is a real challenge. Most of our pupils are not baptised or ‘churched’.

  2. Nick Foord
    July 13, 2016

    Hi Deborah, Yes I will be at the ASA conference. I am happy to share my research results. Email me directly at my Shore email

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