College of Wooster Chapel-Part 1

Favorite faculty speakers included, Aileen Dunham, Mose Hole, Hans Jenney, Myron Payton, Bill Craig, and Wyn Logan.

I recall a hilarious Logan act. Miming a student getting ready to study. He went through all the motions without making a sound. The sound came from all the laughter from the students.

Then there were the visiting speakers. Some with impressive credentials. Samuel Oakley? Swiss Theologian, US Representative Frank Bow, Ohio Governor Mike DiSalle, Edwin Wright US State Department Specialist with the Middle East, William Sloane Coffin Jr. famous Yale University chaplin, and many others with a wide and sometimes national reputation.

I was never uptight about chapel, i usually went and took the speaker program in stride. Which means i was never annoyed, always amused by the hi-jinx that interrupted the daily round. The alarm clock suddenly jingling behind the organ pipes, all the hymn books disappearing for days.

The creativity and hilarity of the senior chapels. A woman once being carried down the central aisle in a bath tub. (laughter) Professor Gore abruptly shutting down the organ and sliding off the bench after the first verse if he didn’t like the hymn, (laughter) leaving us with our mouths wide open and most of us laughing.

In my memory, Will Lang class of ’57, wins first prize for the most inventive humorous distraction during daily chapel. Even today he remembers all the procedures, materials, and successes in expletive detail.

The most, imagina, imaginative caper he and his buddies cooked-up, was (cough), was stealing into Memorial Chapel one December night and in semi-darkness, one of them climbing by rope up to one of the tie-rods he was able to connect a contra, connect a contraption to the rod that contained an alarm clock and a rolled-up window blind stolen from Kauke Hall. The next morning, right in the middle of chapel, the alarm went off, the window blind unfurled with a message, Merry Christmas from the night climbers. (laughter)

Then there was a day in chapel when Dean Toy–Taeush’s dignity took a royal beating. While reading the announcements he informed us in all innocence, that the modern dancer, dancer, Miss Rose La Rose, burlesque queen (giggles) would be giving a performance in the Canton State Theatre on such and such a day, all were urged to attend. (laughter) Laughter erupted and he looked up in puzzled surprise. (giggles)

The twenty minute routine was the same day in and day out. The program began with everyone singing a hymn from the Presbyterian hymnal in the pews. The Dean of the college reading announcements of campus meetings and events from a stack of 3 by 5 cards. No electronic messages in those days. The introduction of the speaker, the 15-minute speech or program, applause, dismissal.

He might be doing the College’s business off-campus most of the time since his last talk. I don’t ever recall a poor President Lowry chapel talk. But he made it obvious when he spoke that he knew what was happening on campus. His sources, whoever they were, never let him down.

Whatever issue he addressed, or whatever report he brought back to the campus he could somehow, usually with a bit of humor, make it applicable to those of us who stayed home. He never scolded. Never moralized. Was unfailingly optimistic.

There always had been some low-level criticism of–of, of the required chapel. In the 1960s however there was much more it, and it took a darker tone.

It was the attendance requirement and the accompanying fines that got under the students skin. Not, not so much the speakers and programs.

In October 1964 the student newspaper, Voice, published a stern reminder from Associate Dean F. W. Cropp, that there were chapel attendance require– regulations to be obeyed.

One. Each student is allowed only 18 chapel cuts per semester.

Two. Fines of five dollars for the 19th chapel cut and 50-cents for each succeeding cut.

He also spelled out the punishment for attendance chiseling, that is signing-in with one’s monitor and then slipping out the door to head for the Shack or elsewhere.

A year earlier, Collin McKennon class of ’64, tongue-in-cheek bragged to the readers of the Voice about his chapel cuts, reporting that his chapel bill the previous year was a mere 21-dollars. For that small amount he said he got a lot in return. (laughter)

Quote. I escaped watching the Trustees, was not forced to hear the girls chorus, missed recognition day completely, no two-bit Ohio politician told me why his party was going to save the world, no football coach informed me that clean living was good, no visiting minister speculated on the various forms and modes of sin. He concluded that it was money well spent. (laughter)

The same year 1963 Professor Gordon Shull joined the chapel issue by weighing-in on the hymn with some humor. More care should be given to fitting hymn with the speaker, he opined.

When President Lowry was the speaker, the hymn should be, Old Word of God Incarnate, Oh Wisdom from on High. (laughter)

For Dr. Startzman, the College Physician, Rescue the Perishing. (laughter)

For the head of Geology, Rock of Ages. (laughter)

For Dean of Men, Racky Young, Under His Wings. (laughter)

And for football coach, Phil Shipe, Fight the Good Fight with All Their Might. (laughter)

One issue achieved dominance in the turbulent 60s was the required daily chapel. It was almost as though the requirement was a symbol for all the changes that needed to be made in that decade. Let Tom Fi, Fitz–Fitzpatrick class of ’62 explain.

He wrote a long undated letter to President Drushal, probably in 68, 69, declaring he would go only to those chapels that would interest him. Then he explained, that chapel requirement is in my opinion the most representative example of an archaic educational policy at Wooster. End quote. He surely spoke for many.

By the end of the decade the traditional chapel had morphed into something called Convocation. The key provision of Convocation was that, quote, one morning hour will be reserved each week for convocations, lectures, and campus events. End quote. Some of these were to be religious in nature. The attendance requirement was (pause) there wasn’t one. Attendance is expected.

Daily chapel, which had been, on, had been such a fixture at the College since 1870 had been on life-support for several years and was now quite dead.

Part two. Part two coming up: the second part of Professor Tait’s presentation concerned the actual church buildings, it will be posted next month.

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