by Amy Elizabeth Steele, MDiv’00, PhD’12
Assistant Dean for Student Life
Vanderbilt University Divinity School
What is Community Worship?
Stained glass windows, American flags, and funeral home fans—these are not the accoutrements of All Faith Chapel. Some have referred to the room as a stripped-down space, an almost perfect square devoid of symbol, inviting pilgrims and tourists alike. Truth be told, All Faith Chapel is comparable to a blank slate waiting upon the imagination, theology, midrash, and our deepest-held or our most-recently-arrived-at beliefs. The room does not belong to the Divinity School, nor to any one faith tradition, but to the University.
The VDS Worship Committee hosts Community Worship in All Faith Chapel each week. The liturgy and rituals shape the room into a sanctuary and a laboratory where students can practice preaching, explore worship across traditions, and learn the intricacies of developing worship services. Community Worship within this interdenominational divinity school seeks to strikes a subtle balance between confession and faith, research and methods—without dismissing our academic mission, and without hiding the faith that brought it into being. Never a dull moment! But in the chaos of religious planning and preparation by a worship committee composed of students, worship interns, and faculty, attendees still express that from week to week they walk away having experienced “the holy” often through a deeper sense of community life.
Students who matriculate here rarely have the opportunity to worship outside of their confessional communities, so Community Worship at Vanderbilt Divinity School becomes an exercise in balancing a sense of authenticity to one’s own confessional statements and being hospitable to others’. It’s a learned hospitality, an expression of extending and receiving grace.
In our worship practices we are confronted with the largesse of the holy, expansive notions of what we understand as religious, broader notions of God, and God’s revelations in humanity. At the back of the weekly program is a statement that reads, “We encourage participants to be fully authentic in their expression, as we believe that the gift of true diversity comes not from diluting messages but from expressing them in an environment where assumptions can be overcome and understanding attained.”
This statement has sustained a long tradition of weekly worship. And while each academic year brings varying ideas about worship, the weekly practice is still significant enough that the School supports the careful planning of worship and the thoughtful reflection that follows each service.
Read more about VDS Community Worship: