Relaxation, Education, and Peace: Experience Chapel House

Relaxation%2C+Education%2C+and+Peace%3A+Experience+Chapel+House

LJ Coady, Staff Writer

Up a long and winding path, tucked away behind the academic buildings and dorms, perched at the edge of a pristine forest, lies Colgate University’s Chapel House. The exterior is simple, with a large greenhouse-like entryway welcoming all who approach. The light comes softly through the surrounding trees, and the building feels sacred, worlds away from the rest of campus.

Giant windows wrap around Chapel House, bringing nature inside. There is a chapel open 24/7 to one side of the entryway, and rooms dedicated to music, art, books and more across the hall. The spaces flow smoothly together, an oasis of gentle lighting and natural colors. Beautiful art graces every wall and surface, and even the air is still with a quiet serenity.

Chapel House was founded in 1960 by former Chaplain and Religion Professor Ken Morgan to bring intellectual religious diversity to the Colgate University community. Students are invited to visit any time, as are guests from anywhere in the world. Current Chapel House Director Stephen Kepnes is passionate about upholding Morgan’s vision for a peaceful and intellectual space of religious diversity.

“Colgate was still very much a Protestant Christian school, and [Ken Morgan] wanted to introduce the religions of the East […] to the curriculum and to the student body,” Kepnes explained. “They wanted to have it as a retreat center, that was not only educational […] but [a place where] someone could also come on retreat and study these religions. We have a religion library, we have world religious music, and especially world religious art.”

Chapel House prides itself on offering a variety of ways for students to experience spiritual growth, and take a moment to relax. They have regular meditation sessions, as well as special events like poetry readings, knitting, egg painting, granola baking, farm-to-table cooking lessons and Lego activities, to name a few.

“We have constant things that we do to try to invite students up, to partake of the atmosphere at the edge of our campus and to get in touch with themselves in ways that perhaps go beyond the academic,” Kepnes explained.

One of Chapel House’s most popular programs is its morning meditation program. Senior Charlie Quill helps run the meditation sessions for students, as well as student organizations, athletic programs and community members.

“As facilitators, [co-facilitator Eric Barber] and I collaborate to provide instructions regarding how to properly sit, breathe and be present throughout the 10-15 minute meditation sessions,” Quill said. “I have always found the time I spend at Chapel House, for meditation or otherwise, to be serene and restful.”

As part of the Chapel House’s founding mission to foster spiritual well-being and religious education, an overnight retreat program was created. Students generally attend retreats for one night on the weekends, but outside guests are encouraged to stay for a minimum of two days, with a maximum of two weeks. There is a small charge per night, but scholarships are available, and Colgate students receive a reduced price. Vegetarian meals are provided at set times, but the rest of the retreat is self-guided. Chapel House Manager Kathy Keyes schedules all retreats over email.

“We hope that people will come to relax and not to bring their work with them, we hope they use it as a space to find a little bit of relaxation and we hope they leave a little more refreshed,” Keyes said.

Chapel House is an explicitly religious space by design, but also a mecca of tolerance and education that welcomes even the firmest non-believer.

“I also feel that Chapel House plays a role in religious and spiritual life on campus,” Quill said. “As a non-religious individual, I have always appreciated Chapel House’s flexibility through its non-denominational status, creating a more accessible and welcoming space for the entire campus.”

Beyond the meditation sessions, Lego building, baking and retreats, Chapel House is a space for students seeking quiet, reflection and peace. Anyone is welcome to come to Chapel House, read the books, listen to music, learn about art or simply sit in quiet thought.

Chapel House encourages students to reach out and email either Kepnes or Keyes if they want to be included in Chapel House’s newsletter and stay informed of upcoming events.