Neglect of chapel time points to NCHA statistics

I came to St. Olaf with a preconceived notion of what daily chapel service would be like. My parents, both Ole alumni, always mentioned chapel time while reminiscing about their college years. The entire campus stopped during those precious 45 minutes and everyone convened in one place, my mother would tell me. In that day, perhaps more students identified as Lutheran, but by no means did they all practice their religion to the same degree. Chapel time was a short spiritual pause in the day for fellowship, music and prayer.

Chapel attendance has decreased among Oles since my parents’ time, and I cannot help but wonder at the correlation between decreased interest in chapel and trends described in the National College Health Assessment NCHA from 2014: Oles are stressed out. Students, faculty and administration alike are well aware of this fact.

When I came to St. Olaf after graduating from high school in 2011, The Board of Regents Student Committee BORSC Report of 2010 had just been released. Its findings?

– Over 92 percent of Oles report feeling overwhelmed in the past 12 months, compared with the national average of 86.4 percent.

– The number of Oles reporting exhaustion also beats national averages, at 87 percent compared to the 81 percent average.

– More St. Olaf students sought treatment for depression 12.8 percent than the national average 10.1 percent. And this only measures those who sought help – it may not include the many others who suffered from depression and failed to report it.

– Over 68 percent of Oles reported feeling lonely, surpassing the national average of 57 percent.

Current research from the NCHA of 2014 suggests these numbers have increased in the four years I have attended St. Olaf. I can almost feel these changes occurring – those numbers ticking up every time I sit down and talk my friend or myself through a breakdown, when I see others rushing to their activities in a frenzy of over-commitment, when I collapse into my bed and realize I haven’t stopped moving since six that morning. Most of us know this feeling.

My plan for part of an intervention? Chapel time.

Notice I didn’t say chapel service. I care about the intention behind the time spent in those 45 minutes, not your specific location during them. It’s always amazing to me that people still feel overbooked in every minute of their days, when there are 45 specific minutes mapped out where gasp there are no classes, gasp no meetings, and gasp no commitments.

And don’t you dare shake your head and tell me that that’s when you meet with your advisor or your organization, or catch up on homework for your 10:45 class. You might as well eat your words: that time is filled because you filled it yourself.

During chapel time, the college blocks out 45 minutes for students to attend chapel if they wish, or simply to take a mental break during the day. Many of the main offices are closed, including the Post Office, the Student Activities Office and the Registrar’s Office, to name a few. Yet Oles continue to fill chapel time to bursting when it should be approached with intention and reverence. Is nothing sacred anymore? Will we do nothing in reaction to the NCHA’s troubling assessment of St. Olaf’s state of affairs? I do not enjoy the fact that 92 percent of us that are stressed, exhausted, depressed and lonely. Consider this time with respect for your own mental well-being and that of this community.

I am also not asking you to add another thing to your plate – this part of the intervention does not entail “adding” chapel time to your daily activities. It involves integrating something that is already present, but hidden: the time to stop. To rest. To be.

To paraphrase the author Wayne Mueller in his book Sabbath: “We do not stop because we have accomplished everything on our to-do list. We stop because it’s time to stop.”

Emily Stets ’15 stetsec@stolaf.edu is from Northfield, Minn. She is a CIS major in Public Mental Health: Wellness and the Arts.

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