By Joshua Parrott, Page Editor
Major sat behind the podium, gazing at the Chapel crowd.
Students were hysterical, quite a feat considering Major never spoke a word.
Major, the pet bulldog of Richard “Fuzzy” Lunsford, a student at ACU from 1951-55, was brought to Chapel to impersonate the late Don H. Morris, Abilene Christian College president from 1940-69.
“Major was sitting in the center chair where Morris always sat, cheeks hanging down, right behind the podium,” said Lunsford, Students’ Association president in 1954-55. “I was impersonating another professor and Major leaned forward to look around the podium, just like Morris used to do.”
Chapel has personified the institution, from the days of Childers Classical Institute to Abilene Christian College to Abilene Christian University, but tracking the changes over the years is difficult because of scant records prior to the 1980s.
Dr. John Stevens, ACU president from 1969-81, said the annual faculty impersonations each spring were great entertainment for the whole campus.
“The impersonations were always a source of great humor,” Stevens said. “You could see the characteristics stand out in the mind of the students.”
Sewell Auditorium, renovated into Sewell Theatre in 1971, provided great acoustics for Chapel singing, but was never able to seat more than 1,280 people at one time. With the completion of Moody Coliseum in 1968, daily Chapel services moved to Moody, which has a seating capacity of more than 4,000. This allowed for all students to gather at the same time for Chapel, but at 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
More than 7,000 people crammed into Moody Feb. 18, 1968, for the official opening ceremonies despite rainy weather, some carrying signs proclaiming Moody as “Astrochurch,” comparing the new coliseum to the Astrodome in Houston.
During one Chapel service in the late 1950s, drama students dropped flour and eggs on the head of Dr. Rex Kyker, head of the Communications Department from 1957-80.
“It wasn’t that we were misbehaving because it wasn’t the behavior of the entire student body,” said Dr. Marianna Rasco, a student at ACU from 1952-53 and head of the Family and Consumer Sciences Department since 1987. “We were a smaller community, more forgiving and laughed more back then, plus practical jokes were more common.”
According to Gene Linder, dean of men from 1971-74 and associate dean of students from 1974-81, students who missed Chapel more than their allotted absences, which ranged between 10 and 15 depending on the year, were unable to attend classes the next semester. Students who missed Chapel because of their work schedule were required to attend a Chapel service before the start of 8 a.m. classes.
Tracking student attendance for Chapel hasn’t always been as easy as the swipe of a card. Prior to the late 1980s, students were assigned seats.
Students could choose their seats, but if they were caught leaving early, they lost that option. After the transition to the card readers, assigned seating was no longer necessary.
Linder said student employees took pictures using 35 mm cameras with black and white film to check student chapel attendance.
“The student employees took one picture for each section in Moody and then looked at the pictures to see who was at Chapel,” Linder said. “It was really cheap for the school because we shot and developed our own film.”
Current students may be punished for breaking Chapel rules by “sliding and gliding” and receive assigned seating, forfeiture of all unexcused absences and even community service for the offense. Sliding and gliding is the term used when students check in or out of Chapel but don’t attend.
Wayne Barnard, current dean of Campus Life and an ACU student from 1976-80, said fewer students are unable to “slide and glide” since the university adopted the policy that students must slide both in and out of Chapel.
While agreeing he was part of “a tricky era” because of significant objection to women speaking in Chapel, Dr. Charles Trevathan, vice president for Campus Life from 1991-97, said that the general shift to student leadership was the most important change during his tenure.
“We tried to have different students lead everyday, but we couldn’t get a steady rhythm going,” said Trevathan, now an instructor of sociology and social work and associate general counsel. “The chemistry was so different when you alternated the leaders.”
Trevathan’s first student leader was Adam Looney, now the praise leader at Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock.
Before projection screens were installed in Moody Coliseum in the early 1990s, students used songbooks. Chapel began at 11:05 a.m. and lasted 25 minutes, with an opening announcement, a five-minute devotional and then the speaker of the day.
Policies for speaking in Chapel were tougher during the Trevathan era because the speakers had to turn in a written text of their respective speech.
“I called it the ‘Gideon speech’ because it weeded out the speakers who wanted to talk but who didn’t want to work,” Trevathan said.
According to Mark Lewis, the opportunity for an entire college to gather for a spiritual purpose is unique and rare because a large portion of the nation’s schools are becoming more and more secular.
“If you look at Christian higher education historically here in the U.S., you have universities that exist now that have been around for 150-200 years that actually started out looking a lot like ACU looks, but no longer do,” said Lewis, director of Spiritual Life and Student Ministries in Campus Life. “A lot of that has to do with them having relegated God to a seminary on the corner of the campus rather than God being a part of the overall educational experience.”
Although Chapel has changed greatly over the years, Lewis said that Chapel remains important to develop more of a community at ACU because “it is our most public and regular activity.”
“Chapel is one of the identifying marks of ACU,” Stevens said. “I’m proud of the way Chapel is being run. After students get out of school, they are glad they went to Chapel when they did.”