Grace Memorial Chapel pews removed, space revamped as Interfaith Prayer Service

After more than a year of discussion and plans for renovation, Grace Memorial Chapel had its pews removed in the last month and a half.

The Interfaith Prayer Service, as the revamping has been called, was officially dedicated Wednesday afternoon. Outgoing Student Body President Matthew Conklin led the dedication and talked about his reaction to seeing the chapel without pews, an initiative he started at the beginning of his term to better accommodate people of all faiths.

“It leaves one asking, ‘Why was it such a big deal to get this done?’” Conklin said. “The only thing different now is there is carpet where the pews were.”

For now, the chapel is using rental university chairs. Wade Robinson, vice president of Student Affairs, said permanent chairs will be added soon. He said events held in the chapel can be set up with seating or without it.

“The ultimate flexibility of the space is there,” Robinson said.

Robinson spoke about the history of interfaith, mentioning that Conklin and Brandon Baltzell, outgoing student body vice president, campaigned on restructuring the chapel when they were running for SGA office in April 2014. Robinson stressed the process was not spur of the moment.

“It was thought out,” he said. “Students have been engaged, faculty have been engaged, and I think that it is really important to know it was a really collaborative effort.”

The chapel was built in 1963, when Harvey D. Grace provided funds for the building as a memorial to her husband, according to the university website. It sits about 200 feet north of the Rhatigan Student Center.

Robinson said when the chapel was originally dedicated, one of the goals of its construction was for it to be accommodating to people of all faiths.

“If you look at the agreements that were put in place by the leadership at that time, this is a no-brainer,” Robinson said. “This is exactly what they wanted this space to be. Flexible, interfaith, representing everybody.”

Several student groups were involved in discussions about the restructuring. One of those was Global Faith in Action.

Chandler Williams, president of GFA, attended the dedication and said she is excited about the project officially being dedicated. She said it is the beginning of a conversation.

“I view this chapel as the beginning of interfaith work here on WSU’s campus,” she said. “We’re making big or small strides, however you want to look at it, starting the discussion for students, and this is the perfect place to do that.”

Near the end of the dedication, Conklin spoke about his father being a traditional Catholic, yet still seeing the need for something such as an Interfaith Prayer Service on a campus. He said he appreciates his father giving him that extra push.

“I love to talk about global issues and really get to the core of why people believe what they believe,” Conklin said. “I really am hopeful that this space can be dedicated to that, to make people better. That’s what public universities are all about, serving the public good. I hope this space will accomplish that.”