APU Chapel: Come and Be Transformed

As a Christian university centered around a God First mission, Azusa Pacific University is committed to educating and supporting students not just in academics, but also in their spiritual development. A fundamental aspect of this is achieved through chapel programs, in which students have the opportunity to gather together to experience community worship and Biblically-rooted messages. Jason Le Shana, MDiv, director, Office of Chapel and Pastoral Care, highlighted how chapel serves as an integral part of the identity of APU. “Since the school's origin as the Training School for Christian Workers, the desire has been for students to participate in rhythms of worshiping and learning together. In chapel, students are invited to come and be open to being transformed by the Spirit.”

Chapel directly correlates with two of APU’s four cornerstones: Christ and community. Ta’Tyana Leonard, MDiv, associate director of chapel, campus pastor, highlighted this emphasis. “At chapel programs, APU students experience a picture of collective global worship. We sing songs in many languages, hear messages from people of different backgrounds, and worship together as a diverse student body. It’s a reflection of heaven to come together, every tribe and tongue of people, to worship in unity.”

Going to chapel on a regular basis encourages students to grow in their faith. “Simply stated, we are a worshiping university,” said Coba Canales, EdD, dean of Spiritual life. “APU is not just a place of learning and advancement, but one that is founded upon the truth of Christ. Chapel is an invitation to practice centering our lives around this truth.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person chapel programs were suspended and replaced temporarily with online viewing. Canales noted the difficulties of this experience. “Chapel is a two way conversation. When I’m preaching, I want to be in conversation with students and see what they are experiencing. It's impossible to have this dynamic virtually, and the community tangibly felt the absence of face-to-face chapel.” With the return of in-person chapel services, beginning after last year’s mid-semester break, APU is once again experiencing a fresh breath of camaraderie. “COVID provided opportunities for individual rest and reflection—lessons that we can all continue to implement in our lives,” Leonard said. “However, it is more important now than ever to come together in community and to reflect communally. There is incredible power in assembly.”

With the new academic year, the Office of Chapel and Pastoral Care is continuing to build on last year’s momentum. On Thursday nights, a new rotation will be employed, alternating between the long-beloved “Kaleo” chapel, and the new “Response” chapels, which open the space for reflection through extended worship, testimony, and other opportunities. In addition to the traditional Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning services, this year’s chapel curriculum offers students a place to show up with no obligations, and leave equipped and inspired. “Our desire is to make chapel more than just an opportunity to take in information, but rather to be in prayer, conversation, and collaboration,” Canales said. “We want to work in community to dive into life, truth, and scripture.”

With the busyness of college life, three chapels a week may seem like a daunting task to pack into schedules. However, chapel is so much more than meeting an academic requirement. “It’s like a mini-sabbath during your week,” said Le Shana. “Unlike classes, you’re not required to prepare or produce anything. You have the opportunity to show up and just exist. Chapel is a gift, if you allow it to be.” It is an opportunity to take space to gather and worship in community—an intentional pause in between classes and obligations. “We’ve heard testimonies time and time again from students who were worn out and did not feel like showing up to chapel, that then discovered that they absolutely needed it,” Leonard said. “Even if you feel resistance, make it a sacrifice of praise to God and be open as to how God can move during this time.”

In day-to-day life, there are not many spaces like chapel. Where else can you sit next to brothers and sisters of all backgrounds and walks of life, engaging in communal worship? “Being led in worship from different languages and genres, and receiving teachings from speakers of various backgrounds and traditions, humanizes people whom we may not have had relationships with before,” Leonard said. “It’s a picture of Earth as it is in heaven, as we experience solidarity with other cultures and people through worship.”

In the increasingly secularized realm of higher education, chapel is an experience fundamental to APU’s Christian mission and identity. As an institution predicated on a God First mission, programs like chapel are more necessary now than ever in equipping students to be sent into the world as difference makers for the kingdom of God. “Our world today is full of challenges," Le Shana said. "Our role is to be faithful in responding to God's movement. We want to be a school that challenges students to see their experience in college as more than just earning a degree. We want to be a community that is deeply engaged with what God is doing globally.”