Art by Peau Porotesano
I have to admit — I used to hate Convo. After all, why should I spend my Wednesday morning in a room full of people who don’t care, listening to a speaker who has nothing beneficial to say? I’m not alone in that sentiment either.
Convocation probably tops the list of things most dreaded by students, slightly edging out Humanities 111 and the stairs to the CCB. Why should we spend 14 hours of our packed semester not paying attention to an irrelevant speaker, especially when there are so many other ministries on campus? This has been the dominant image of Convo among us students for my past four years — a tightly enforced regime of credits and attendance for lame speakers who don’t get us.
Something is different this year, though. I find myself seeking out Wednesday Morning Chapel for the first time since freshman year. Even more, I find myself leaving fulfilled and excited; feelings that were difficult to express when I was tuning out the speaker in exchange for Facebook.
Under new staff, Convo is being transformed from a strict set of credits to a ministry of love and hospitality aimed at bringing together the Pepperdine community. Through renewed worship, a focus on hospitality and care for speakers who the students want to hear, Convo has become a space of spiritual transformation. For those of us who have written off Convo, it’s time to give it another chance.
Junior Jon Castellanos has become a regular Convo attendee, but he said it wasn’t always that way.
“I used to be one of those kids who’d just go and do work and stay on my phone and talk to friends and tune out,” Castellanos said. “But this year I feel [for] the Convo office and see what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to be as transparent and direct as they can. They’re not just shoving away students’ preferences and feedback, but seeking it out. That’s what they want and what they’re asking for.”
With a renewed focus on the students, the Convo office is aiming to create more than just a lecture space. To students like Castellanos, “It’s felt more like a community than years prior.”
Of the things that have changed about Convo, Director of Convocation Gus Peterson said its core aim has not. “The mission has not changed. This is what is published on the community website: ‘The Convocation Program is dedicated to help Pepperdine students build Christian faith, affirm Christian values and address the moral and ethical dimensions of current issues,’” Peterson said.
But when you go to chapel on Wednesdays, something is distinctly different. The crowd is engaging in worship, fewer people are having full-volume conversations, and it feels more like a community space. Peterson said he attributes this shift to a renewed “focus as a worship-centered, community-wide chapel experience. Each week, in addition to featured speakers, the Seaver community gathers, discovering how scripture relates to current events and sings worship and praise together.”
These external changes to chapel created an open, exciting environment where I want to be on Wednesday mornings. When I began looking for the spaces in Convo where I can be impacted — the worship, the speakers and the community — I found the spaces inside myself transformed. By shifting our perspective on Convo away from a transaction to a transformation, we can allow it to impact our spiritual lives.
Even with the new direction of Convo, though, there is still a general frustration among many students over its 14-credit requirement. This facet differentiates Convo from other ministries on campus, where participants are happy and excited because they choose to be there. Rather than being a downfall, however, the credit requirement of Convo can be a benefit, as it pushes us into community and into a new space for our spiritual lives. With so much else going on in our days, it can be burdensome to give to our campus community and to our spiritual journey. Convo, especially now with its renewed focus on what we, as students, want, is of great value because it forces us out of that complacency.
If we allow it, Convo can be a place of investigation, discussion and greater understanding of our perspectives and belief systems. Let’s shift our perspective on the credit requirement of Convo to view it as a place to be challenged, tested and transformed as individuals and as a community. What can we do to see Convo in a new light? Peterson suggests, “Work with us. Proactively choose to be engaged and not distracted. Give Convo the benefit of the doubt.” Convocation exists for our sake, let’s take hold of it. Convo has changed — will you let it change you?
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