Art by Peau Porotesano
Convocation is no longer fulfilling its purpose for Pepperdine, and that needs to change. If they want to fix the fact that a large majority of students associate “Wednesdays at 10 a.m.” with having teeth pulled, then the Convocation office needs to seriously reconsider what its mission is and what message they are trying to send to the student body.
A jubilant Brenda Salter McNeil bounded up the stage at Feb. 14’s Wednesday chapel and promptly called out the students who were studying in the bleachers. She deemed them “here to take up space” but declared to the largely empty Fieldhouse, “I am here for the followers of Jesus!”
Sitting in the audience, I felt McNeil’s main goal was to shame those with a book or laptop into listening to what she had to say. Yet, can she really blame them?
The repetitive messages of Pepperdine Wednesday Chapel coupled with the overbearing number of Convocation requirements creates an environment for a lack of enthusiasm and perpetual boredom. If someone is forced to eat chicken and rice every day for an entire semester, eventually they grow to hate it. The food’s qualities, once anticipated and looked forward to, will have become repetitive and nauseating.
The story is the same with Pepperdine Convocation, which has been beaten to death time and time again.
There are students who genuinely enjoy Wednesday Chapel. But it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that the rest of the students have become bored and dismissive of it.
The problem starts with the Convocation provison itself. Requiring 14 attendances creates a feeling of mandatory servitude, an obligation which not only kills the purpose of hearing the word of God but weakens it. The lack of variety and diversity in the means of obtaining those credits creates a false sense of “one size fits all” when it comes to spirituality, which simply isn’t the case.
This lack of connection isn’t due to a lack of faith. The book Sacred Pathways by Gary L. Thomas describes nine different scenarios in which followers of Christ feel most connected to God, such as naturalism, getting out into nature, or sensates, who experience the Lord through the use of the senses. That’s nine different ways one person could feel. So why does Convo insist on being the same message, the same principles, repeated so many times in the course of one semester?
If the Convo office truly wants to touch the hearts of students and have messages that impact students’ lives, then they first need to reduce the number of required Convocation credits from 14 to maybe 10. Students feel stressed rather than blessed, and reducing the total credit requirements will help create more positive and receptive students.
Second, the Convo office needs to create more opportunities that will reach out to many different students’ ways of connecting to their faith. While there has been some expansion for students to meet the requirement, such as club convos, not every student has the ability to make these commitments. Thus, more attention needs to be given to Wednesday Chapel, with more thought and time put into creating a series or inviting a guest speaker and offering multiple topics spread throughout the year to best pique the interests of the diverse population. They could also create local volunteer opportunities in the community that count toward credits.
Third, students should be the primary speakers at Wednesday Chapel. Students of all types of backgrounds should have an opportunity to share stories and give testimony. This will create a sense of connection among the audience, giving them a chance to support and encourage their fellow classmates.
All of the above will change the perspective of Convo for the better. Students who are excited to hear a message or to perform an act of service are far more likely to be receptive to God’s call than yet another forty-year-old’s “I’m one of you!” talks.
Follow Nenah Mikuska on Twitter: @Nenah_Mikuska