Chapel sacrifices Sunday service for Tuesday nights

At a staff meeting in October 2018, Mollie Varpness, senior chapel president, said Sunday services were not working.

So at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year, the Chapel of Reconciliation replaced Augustana’s traditional Sunday service with a new, student-led service called Tuesday Nights Together (TNT).

TNT is an informal gathering that explores themes for three to four weeks. The first theme was “faith in college,” and for the next four weeks, TNT is working through Philippians. Regular Monday, Wednesday and Friday services are not blocked for specific focuses, according to Varpness.

“It’s gonna be dynamite,” Varpness said. “It’s set up so students know what we are going to be talking about that night and how that relates to them.”

Augustana is not the only Lutheran school to stop holding worship on Sunday mornings. Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota and Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota also do not hold Sunday services.

“Every Christian community is unique,” the Rev. Ann Rosendale said. “The best time to gather at an off-campus church is on Sunday morning, but the heart of community at Augustana is strongest during the week, indicating the best times to gather.”

How it started

Last year, chapel staff debated during meetings, forums were held for feedback, students filled out surveys and a task force explored the institutional logistics, Rosendale said.

“As the [2018-2019] year went on, our staff started asking questions about students who want to worship off campus, and some of our staff wanted to be involved in a church off campus,” Rosendale said. “They felt it was difficult to do both — to worship here on campus and worship off campus. We listened to that.”

Though Tuesday Nights Together (TNT) started with senior speakers, it has morphed into group discussions, providing more options than the Sunday service. Varpness is also considering how the chapel space could be used in different ways for TNT.

“We worked to figure out what about Sundays is working, what isn’t working and how can we facilitate this more to what Augustana needs,” Varpness said.

But there are some concerns

While the service change leaves more opportunities for on and off-campus worship, junior Bible study coordinator Claire Eiswirth said she worries about students without transportation.

“When I was a freshman, I didn’t have a car. Maybe [the service change] would limit me if I were still in that position,” Eiswirth said.

Limited churches are within walking distance of campus. Christ the King Church, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church and First Presbyterian Church are within half a mile campus.

“There’s a little loss of opportunity,” Eiswirth said.

Students are attending

But according to Eiswirth, the service change has increased attendance.

With its contemporary music and welcoming student attendees, TNT has been an effective change for the on-campus worship community, Rosendale said. Every Tuesday, the chapel has had 40-50 students for worship.

“There is still a little bit of structure but also modern twists and flexibility,” Eiswirth said. She hopes that the service creates a more engaging atmosphere for students.

Due to a technical error, the online edition of this story as originally published on Oct. 11 was missing the first four grafs. The story has been updated to reflect the change. 

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