Wichita State University President John Bardo, responding for the second time since Monday to criticism about the school’s renovated chapel, asked a committee to study interfaith chapel practices nationally, and to consult with campus and community people concerned.
“Because these issues have been unfolding over millennia, we can invest a few more months to develop wise solutions,” he wrote.
Criticism erupted on social media over the weekend when WSU alums, donors and others learned that all the pews and a tiny altar or podium had been removed from Harvey D. Grace Memorial chapel five months ago.
The pews were removed by WSU officials after some Muslim students asked that more space be made for them to pray there, in part by kneeling on roll-out rugs. Since then people on one side claim on social media that the Muslims are getting too much accommodation, while others have pointed out the chapel is still open to all creeds.
Committee people Bardo appointed to bring people together on this issue will listen extensively to all community voices, he wrote.
“That will likely include a town meeting within a month, sponsored by Student Government Association,” Bardo wrote.
Bardo said the community needs a “fact based discussion” about this issue.
“From its inception, more than 40 years ago, the Harvey D. Grace Memorial Chapel has been dedicated to ‘all faiths.’ It represented a tie to the University’s beginning as a Congregational college, but it never was a Christian chapel... Early records show that the intent was that no symbols from any religion should be installed in the chapel. That would include a cross, crucifix, Star of David, prayer rug, icon screen or any other symbol designating a particular religion. Those symbols may be brought into the chapel for use in religious services and then removed.
“People have been married there, had memorial services for loved ones and attended musical performances,” Bardo continued. “For many of us who have been students or worked on campus since the early 1960s, Grace Chapel has been part of our lives.
“This isn’t just about Christians and Muslims or ‘Christians versus Muslims,’ as we’ve seen it described on social media. Grace Chapel cannot be a one- or two-religion space, and to characterize it as such ignores the intent of the gift and the nature of the University. Wichita State welcomes all faiths and creeds. I personally and professionally believe that is the only way a University can achieve its mission. Grace Chapel can serve the needs of all faiths. Serving one faith for an hour or two a day doesn’t diminish the chapel’s value in serving others faiths.”