Daily Worship and Vocation

Lessons from a University Campus

If the church gathers weekly for public worship, why do Christian colleges and universities gather for chapel? When I started work in campus worship at Calvin University more than twenty years ago, I wrestled with this question. Having been trained as a parish minister and reared in the worship of local congregations, I had doubts about my newfound career. Why would we devote resources to buildings and staff for campus worship and schedule time away from the classroom, athletics, and concert stages? Why not leave this activity to the sphere of the local church and focus our investments in educating young minds for their Monday-to-Saturday vocations in the world? 

I posed these questions to our chapel committee, made up of faculty, staff, and students. They were unwilling to give up this vital communal practice. But if we were to gather for chapel, it was important for us to articulate answers to certain questions: 

  • How is worship at an academic institution unique?
  • How does campus worship express and support our mission?
  • How does campus worship form us into Christian disciples?
  • What are wise and faithful worship practices for our community? 

Our answers helped us formulate the following mission statement: “The purpose of daily chapel is to express, nourish, and shape our life and mission together before God as a Christian academic community through the practices of Christian worship.” I’d like to highlight here some aspects of our practices that may be beneficial even for Christians who don’t have the opportunity to attend daily chapel services. 

Daily Chapel

Calvin University gathers each weekday for worship. Daily communal worship is a centuries-old practice designed as an opportunity for laity to connect the Sunday service of word and table with the wide array of daily vocations and relationships. John Calvin encouraged this pattern in Geneva and recommended it not as an exclusive monastic practice, but as a practice for all people. The goal is not to repeat the celebration of word and table, but to encourage prayer and reflection in the midst of our vocations. 

As such, Calvin University’s chapels are just twenty minutes long. They provide a focused opportunity to pray and listen to God’s word within the busyness and activity of the day. We believe that regular participation helps worshipers recenter their communal identity and vocation before God. Indeed, as we walk through a weekly pattern of cross-cultural engagement, testimony, word, reflection, and song, we nurture our imaginations for God’s grand story of salvation and our place in it. We therefore endeavor to make it possible for everyone working in the community, no matter their role, to attend chapel services. Our community is made up not only of faculty and students, but also people serving as administrators, physical plant employees, dining hall servers, and campus safety officers, among others.


How might you make room for prayer and reflection in the midst of your daily work? Are there other Christians in your workplace with whom you might gather regularly? If you work at home or are retired, where might you find that Christian community? Does your household regularly practice a time of worship or devotion and what does or might that look like?

Following the example of Calvin University’s chapels, Christian organizations, households, and individuals might establish patterns of morning or lunchtime prayer. Those who don’t work in Christian settings could identify Christian colleagues and create opportunities throughout the week to meet to reflect briefly on scripture and share prayer requests for their life and work. Churches might consider providing morning or lunchtime meetings online to support the discipleship of their parishioners in their daily work. Regardless of the setting, such meetings should be both regular and short to encourage participation within the busyness of the workday. 

To Express, Nourish, and Shape 

Our chapels seek to “express, nourish, and shape our life and mission together before God.” We gather to sing and pray to God about the joys, concerns, and sorrows we experience. We desire to hear God speak to the needs of our community through God’s word and respond wholeheartedly in faith. This is not any different from the experience of the local church whose worship supports and arises out of its local context. 

While rooted in the Reformed theological and liturgical tradition of Calvin University, our worshipful expression before God is diverse because of the tapestry of cultures represented on campus. We prize representative leadership and offer prayer and praise through many cultural, historical, and contemporary expressions. Moreover, in order to express and nourish our life together, our chapels are mindful of the unique needs of faculty, staff, and students as well as the ebb and flow of the academic calendar. 

Daily chapel also shapes our life and mission. Over time, the repetitive practice of daily worship etches onto our hearts and minds certain ways of being and thinking. The words placed on our lips through prayer and song, the word of God read and preached, the testimonies we share, and the arts we practice shape our beliefs about God, the church, the world, and our vocation. They form our imaginations concerning God’s presence and activity in the world. They discipline our affections to hate sin and take delight in what is good.

This happens liturgically through practices of praise, confession, listening, lamenting, interceding, and dedicating ourselves to God. This happens aesthetically through creative music, art, dance, speech, and more. This happens through weekly rhythms that tell the story of God’s grace and train the heart to love the things that God loves. This formation is enhanced by thoughtful framing that explains why and how these practices are shaping us.


What are some repetitive practices that have etched certain ways of being and thinking onto your heart and mind? How have personal, household, or small group devotional practices shaped you?”


Our Mission in an Academic Context

At Calvin University, we are pursuing a common mission: “to equip students to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.” We are a community, but community is not an end in itself. It is a “threshold for enacting in the world the purpose, justice, sympathy, and discipline that serve as the basis for our community” (Calvin University, Expanded Statement of Mission, p. 49). We practice the virtues of Christ in our living and learning so that we become proficient in serving as Christ in all of life, today and in the future. 

As an academic institution, we pay special attention to the rhythms of the academic calendar and life on campus. We celebrate the start of new semesters and intercede for students and faculty during midterms and exams. We give thanks for staff who serve our students and pray for athletes, musicians, and actors as they prepare for competitions and performances. We name the sins of envy, lust, and academic dishonesty in sermons, and we lament the consequences of overscheduling, lack of sleep, and anxiety over the future. We intercede for students studying abroad, applying for graduate school, or seeking employment. We pray for faculty working toward tenure, grading student papers, and engaging in research. We mourn the death of siblings, parents, and grandparents, and we plead to God for healing from illness in our community. We work against the “mistaken belief that it is both possible and good to follow Jesus alone” (Matthew Kaemingk and Cory Willson, Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy, 2020, p. 30). 

At the same time, daily chapel is coram Deo—in the presence of God. We acknowledge that without participation in daily chapel “we run the risk of forgetting the reality of our sharing in a common task before God, and that commitment to this task is a matter of the heart in combat with the powers of darkness” (Board Report, 1985, p. 7). Kaemingk and Willson ask, “Which is more formative: one hour in the sanctuary or fifty hours in the marketplace?” (Work and Worship, 2020, p. 126). Even within the marketplace of a Christian academic institution, the formative opportunities of chapel, however brief, are essential for keeping us rooted in Christ’s mission. 

The role of daily chapel, then, is not merely to express, nourish, and shape community as an end in itself, but to reflect, shape, and sustain our mission to be agents of renewal in the world. Sermons at chapel thus speak to our mission. Prayers are lifted up on behalf of our mission. Art, music, and language strive to be consistent with our mission (e.g., an English professor should find rich language clearly expressed, the music professor should find well-prepared music, and the art professor should not find kitsch and cliché exemplified). 

Moreover, as an academic community we assume we bring our heads to chapel as well as our hearts. We expect to learn about the practices of Christian worship in their robust historical, cultural, and global diversity. We also make intentional efforts to learn about worship. This involves not just simple participation,but intentional teaching moments by way of handouts, blogs, articles in the student newspaper, coursework, and the like. And daily chapel is a platform for students learning to lead in faithful Christian worship and serves as a resource for the broader church. 

Worship practices in chapel also testify to the variety of vocations to which students aspire and the cultures and languages in which they will worship and serve. Chapel on any given Tuesday might be led by chemistry, computer science, engineering, or business students and faculty. A chapel might sing, pray, and listen to God’s word concerning creation care, service learning, anti-racism, or justice advocacy. 

Therefore, a central goal of chapel is to teach students the discipline of liturgical worship for the sake of their participation as citizens of God’s kingdom. As David Fagerberg writes, “We do not go into the liturgy in order to escape the world; we go there to learn how to do it the correct way” (Consecrating the World, qtd. in Worship and Word by Kaemingk and Willson p. 17). 



Does your congregation see weekly worship as preparation for a life of worship? How might we encourage each other to practice daily habits that might keep us rooted in Christ’s mission and help us live as kingdom citizens? What might that look like in your context? What are some unique concerns or unique temptations of those who share your vocation or place of employment? 

A Connecting Point

If the church gathers weekly for worship, why does a Christian college or university gather daily for chapel? Chapel connects our weekend worship to our weekday discipleship. When we gather for daily chapel, we set aside time to situate ourselves properly in relationship to our triune God, to one another, and to our unique mission or calling. Through liturgical acts of worship, we express our Christian identity and dependence upon God in all the areas we live, serve, play, and aspire to. In doing so, we find strength in God and in community, and we allow the Spirit every day to shape all of our living and serving into the likeness of Jesus Christ.


If you are a worship leader or pastor, how might you help draw the connection between your church’s weekly worship and daily acts of worship? How could that influence your community’s understanding of God’s call and their unique vocations? 


Rev. Paul Ryan has mentored emerging worship leaders for twenty years at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is the worship pastor overseeing daily chapels. He also is a resource development specialist with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Paul is married to Sheila, is father to two high school boys, and is coach to dozens of middle school track and cross-country kids.

Reformed Worship 152 © June 2024, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.