By CAMRYN BEAUMONT
When you hear the word ‘chapel,’ do you think only of religion? Though its architecture was originally designed to mimic a classic religious symbol, praying hands, Sykes Chapel has created a name for itself on UT’s campus as much more than just a place of religious worship.
As a non-denominational university, UT made an interesting choice to build a chapel that sits at the center of campus. You may be one of those students who passes by it almost everyday, whether on your way to the fitness and recreation center or hurrying to make your class in Walker Hall. Or maybe you have seen Sykes Chapel stand as a shelter for spiritual students to retreat to. But, what if I told you there was more to the chapel that meets the eye: a 3184-piped organ, stained glass and ceiling-to-floor windowed walls.
With over 300 organizations and clubs on campus, Sykes Chapel has become the central meeting-place for students of all cultures, interests and beliefs that comprise these diverse groups.
Some of the outlying events held in Sykes Chapel include Student Government pitch meetings and elections and interest meetings before formal Panhellenic recruitment. The Chabad organization also meets in Sykes Chapel for weekly Torah studies. In addition, Sykes Chapel is open for individual prayer and meditation Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m.
Lao Harrison, second year MBA Finance and MS Instructional Design Technology graduate student, participates in a weekly meditation practice.
“The meditation is agnostic. You don’t have to be of any one spiritual position, it’s very inclusive,” Harrison said. “The idea is that students have busy days and it’s meant to take time out of your day, choose one word to anchor your thoughts and cleanse your spiritual palette.”
As you’d expect, Sykes Chapel is home to the many religious organizations on campus, including the Catholic Student Organization, Chabad Jewish Student Union, Pagan Student Organization, Secular Student Alliance and more. These organizations have the ability to meet in Sykes Chapel and utilize the space to practice their religion, or lack thereof, freely and openly.
Sykes Chapel is also the meeting place for Better Together, a student organization which recognizes that everyone has preconceived notions about religions and aims to educate. The emphasis of UT’s Better Together chapter is that regardless of spiritual beliefs, we can all come together, have dialogue and serve; we have a shared humanity.
For Christi Breinlinger, senior elementary education major, Sykes Chapel has served as a temple of peace and quiet. After experiencing a loss her senior year of high school, she turned to yoga as a form of therapy. This led her to take on the presidential role of Balance UT, an initiative to promote kindness, relaxation and reflection. Breinlinger has organized many events for the group, including yoga meditation mondays in Sykes Chapel.
“The students who come are regulars, since people who aren’t exposed to meditation won’t be open to the idea of it until they experience it,” said Breinlinger. “I have at least one new member each class! Even different faculty who are interested in becoming present and zen join.”
Breinlinger chooses to hold the class in Sykes Chapel because it’s very quiet and a great place to enjoy some self-reflection. Meditation mondays are every Monday at 8 p.m. in the meditation room.
Few students know that UT’s Wellness Center began offering the 12-step AA meeting in 2007. It wasn’t until Sykes Chapel was built in 2010 that the meetings were moved there.
“Really wanted to get a meeting started on campus so that students would have some support if they were in recovery or were questioning the role of alcohol and other drugs in their lives,” said Gina Firth, associate dean of wellness and student affairs.
The meeting is solely student-driven and is open to anyone, whether they’re committed to sobriety or not.
“The 12-step meetings are very welcoming and nonjudgmental,” Firth said. “I would encourage anyone to attend, even just to see what one is like.”
Since it’s opening in 2010, the university has managed to place Sykes Chapel at the center of student affairs, figuratively and literally. Odds are you pass the building almost everyday; Breinlinger, Harrison and Firth encourage everyone to take a leap of faith one of these days, step inside and get involved in something new. You will not be disappointed.
“The university aims to be as inclusive as possible and the chapel represents that well,” said Harrison.
Camryn Beaumont can be reached at email@example.com