Saturday, October 1, 2016
What is wrong with this picture?
The altar is in the center with folks facing each other in order to face it. It is a small altar and small pulpit in the shadow of the grand cross, mighty altar, and elevated pulpit where giants once spoke to the assembled college community (thinking here of O. P. Kretzmann). What is left is a modern chapel adorned with the faces of the people as the primary liturgical art. I know that there are some who will laud the decision to make a chapel within the nave of this large and imposing structure and it is certainly more intimate. But what it does do is testify to just how small the Lutheran presence in chapel and worship has become to a large and diverse Lutheran university and its student population. That is my point. The artistic design of the chapel is secondary to the fact that this chapel lives in the shadows of a history and identity that once was an imposing identity upon the whole campus but it is certainly not one today. This is a picture of the problems most Lutheran colleges and universities face. What does it mean to be a Lutheran collegiate institution?
Chapel is not alone in answer to this question of identity but it was once a place where the unmistakable locus of the university's soul rested. It is easy to pick at Valpo since it has formally distanced itself from its past and its once unofficially close association with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It is easy to raise questions when ELCA colleges and universities claim a Lutheran legacy more than a Lutheran identity. It is not so easy when it is a question facing the wholly owned Lutheran schools that make up the Concordia University System. But it is no less urgent. We are good at words. We need to be better at the reality of what life on an LCMS campus is like. Faith is not to be merely tolerated or even given a nod on these campuses but permeated throughout the classroom, dorm, and chapel. This is a work in progress and I am thankfully for those administrations which face this question head on every day. It is not enough to survive but if we are to survive, it ought to be as Lutheran institutions of higher education -- without apology. Much less and we are little different than our secular counterparts except we charge more and have a small chapel available for those who want it. Pray for our schools, folks!