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Chapel plans reflect Belmont’s Christian mission

The newest blasting ahead on campus will begin the project that will house the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Religion. But when the noise and dust are over and the building opens in 2014, it will also house a serene, two-level chapel.

“Most schools build the chapel last and keep it separate from the rest of the campus,” said Dr. Todd Lake, vice president for Spiritual Development. “I think it shows that Belmont wants to keep God the focus and values itself as a Christian school by building the chapel as a part of the campus.”

The push for a chapel in the new building began with the Board of Trustees, Dr. Guy Chmieleski, university minister, said. The subcommittee for University Ministries, an affiliate association of the board, brought the idea to the table in one of its annual meetings.

“It kind of caught us off guard,” Chmieleski said. While he didn’t the take part in the development process, he said the subcommittee loved the idea of a chapel.

The chapel, with a seating capacity up to 300 and stained glass windows that allow natural light to flow in, will be the first sight visible from the Belmont campus entrance that will be created at 15th and Wedgewood avenues, Lake said.

Entry into the two-level chapel will be the first floor of the new building, currently called the Wedgewood Building until a donor is found. In addition to the chapel, it will include classrooms, labs and faculty offices for every department in the School of Religion and the College of Arts and Sciences except media studies and sport science. It will also include a food service area.

Like Lake, Chmieleski said he believes the chapel space is important to Belmont’s Christian identity.

“With the course of my seven years here, I’ve heard students regularly complain and ask about the fact that Belmont doesn’t seem to have any sacred space on campus,” Chimieleski said. “As a Christian university, it would seem like we should have something like a chapel, religious icons, or scriptures in places just to help embody what we say our identity is.”

For many years, Belmont students were required to attend a chapel service weekly. That program was replaced with the convocation series around 1994.

A couple of years after Chimieleski came to Belmont, he sensed God leading him to reintroduce chapel, he said. The first groups met on Fridays and were very small. Fast-forward to the present, and a group of students generated yet another chapel service two years ago.

There is now a service every Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Neely Dining Room that has an attendance of more than 200 and sometimes as many as 350. Various departments recruit and schedule speakers for chapel service.

The new physical space for the university chapel will seat 250 on the main floor and 30 to 35 on the balcony, which is smaller than what Neely can hold. Currently events in Neely have overflowed, resulting in the ministry staff having to step out at times to allow for others that have driven from out of state to come in without breaking fire laws.

Fortunately, Chimieleski does have a plan to alleviate overflow.

“Over the next two years of building, we will stair-step our way into adding Monday and Friday,” Chimieleski said. “By 2014, we will offer chapel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week.”

A conference space on the fourth floor of the new building is where Chimieleski hopes to get closed circuit cameras, which could provide space for overflow for special events on campus. There is also talk of a smaller prayer chapel inside the chapel in case some students wish to pray alone, he said.

Chimieleski said that the chapel does not necessarily belong to any specific group, but that the belief is the space will be restricted to appropriate groups and programs. However, it has not yet been determined who will execute its overall managerial operations.

More than a Building

The Wedgewood Building will provide more than just space for classes, offices and a chapel. The space is also slated to have a first-floor dining area with a large student space, a fourth-floor conference room, and access to McWhorter and Inman Halls.

The variety of spaces included in the plans were designed for a number of uses, said Provost Dr. Thomas Burns in a previous email with the Vision.

“We anticipate that any space in the building would be able to be used for a variety of purposes,” he said. “Larger spaces, for example, would be used for classroom activities, convocation programming, and other activities.”

The building’s groundbreaking will occur in May. It is expected to open before the fall of 2014.

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