On Monday, September 12, Colgate’s Chapel House reopened after several months of renovation. The Chapel House, located on Chapel House Road, welcomes students, faculty, staff and visitors from all over the world who are in search of religious or spiritual discovery. Open since 1959, this sanctuary on Colgate’s campus encourages people to contemplate and reflect on their own ideas and to learn about different religious art and music.
When it was announced that the Chapel House would be undergoing reconstruction, a new Chapel House Vision Statement was implemented in order to emphasize an improved concept that aligns with the Chapel House’s main priorities. According to Colgate University’s website, the renovations of the Chapel House are “focused on upgrading the mechanical systems and the external [design] of the building as well as making the building fully accessible to people with disabilities. The renovation will be guided both by the new vision statement and by a commitment to preserving the unique modern architecture of the building.”
Director of the Chapel House and Chair of the Religion Department Steven Kepnes provided more insight into the renovation process, as well as the new editions that were added to this haven.
“In terms of renovation, we wanted to restore [the Chapel House] as much as possible to its original footprint. The Chapel House is a landmark building of what is called the international style of American architecture. Since the Chapel House had not gone through any serious renovations since 1959, there was some discussion whether we would do serious renovations,” Kepnes said. “In terms of adding anything new during construction, we decided to add an elevator so that it could be fully accessible for a handicapped person who, for example, would not be able to get downstairs.”
Kepnes conveyed crucial information about the Chapel House’s history and newly added features, and also made a point to state certain changes that he particularly wanted to bring.
“One of the specific changes that I wanted in order to make Chapel House a more peaceful place was to have more natural light. Since the library floor is made out of glass, I was hoping that we could get more light so that students could feel more peaceful,” Kepnes said. “As for the chapel part of Chapel House, we had a lot of discussions on whether or not to add anything, but in the end, we left it as it was.”
Finally, Kepnes reflected on the importance of Colgate’s Chapel House and its meaning to him.
“The Chapel House is important to me because it is a very unique place. Not only is it a unique place on Colgate’s campus, but it [is] also a unique place in America and around the world. It is a place of quiet reflection. It’s for people to come and be with themselves so that they can contemplate and pray. I love that the Chapel House is a place in which anyone is supported. This is a place of all religions, and we let a person explore themselves in any way or path they want. That’s what makes Chapel House unique in America,” Kepnes said.
The reopening of the Chapel House resonated with many students. First-year Courtney Casale discussed her visit to the Chapel House for her first-year seminar.
“For my first-year seminar class, Mind and Brain in Meditation, our professor had us visit the Chapel House so that we could meditate in the chapel room. I really liked my first experience at the Chapel House because it was so peaceful and serene. Not only did I appreciate the quietness of the place, but I also found the history of Chapel House to be very fascinating,” Casale said.
Sophomore Sabrina Callender-Clewett reminisced about her first visit to the Chapel House.
“I first heard about the Chapel House and visited it during my Wilderness Adventure orientation. My leaders decided to take us all there because they thought it was an awesome place on campus that not enough people knew about,” Callender-Clewett said.
Ever since his first year at Colgate, senior Ali Alawi has been a constant visitor to the Chapel House in order to find independence and solidarity.
“The Chapel House is one of my favorite places at Colgate. I feel like Chapel House is where I belong and, even though the Chapel House is at Colgate, it has a secluded sense that I really like. I’m not a religious person; I consider myself very spiritual, and so I have always found this place to be welcoming. Not only do I come to this place for reflection and contemplation, but I have come here to work different jobs for the Chapel House,” Alawi said.
Casale appreciated the originality and purpose of Chapel House and recommends it to anyone who has not had the opportunity to visit it.
“I would definitely go back again for the experience of the quiet meditation, and I would recommend it to others who want that same peacefulness. I would also recommend it to people who enjoy history and art culture because there is a lot of ancient calligraphy that is mesmerizing,” Casale said.
Although the Chapel House wants more visibility on campus, its purpose is not to become an active student center. Rather, it is a hospitable place for students to get away. The Chapel House is open every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. for those interested in meditation classes.