What first comes to your mind when you hear the word “scanner?” Perhaps you think of an image of the scanner at a grocery store check-out line, an M.R.I. or C.A.T. scan machine, or a device that will turn your documents into digital files. Whatever sense of this word occurs to you, the term “scanner” at Covenant has unfortunately become associated with chapel. Three times a week, every student must “scan” into chapel using their student ID. This is the only way they will not be counted absent. I believe that this mandatory scanning method has a negative effect on students and on the chapel experience. It makes chapel feel forced instead of something that is voluntary and enjoyable.
Recently, a faithful chapel-going friend of mine experienced one of the injustices of the scan-in system. She forgot to scan in one day, so she emailed the chapel department and explained her mistake. She was informed that her “mistake” still counted as a chapel skip. She was shocked by this response as she had never missed chapel before, and had, on the day in question, attended the entire chapel service.
Another problem with the system is that many students have either work-study or classes that don’t get out until 10:50. This necessitates a stressful rush to get to the chapel in time to scan in. To make matters worse, many have their work-study in the gym, which is about as far as one can get from the chapel.
The harsh enforcement of the mandatory scan rule, connected with the overall obligatory nature of chapel attendance, should not be characteristics of what ought to be a positive worship experience at Covenant. It turns what should be a naturally joyful gathering into a burdensome obligation. The scanner itself almost implies that the college administration assumes that students will try to skip, and says — without saying it— “don’t try it, you’ll get caught.” This sets up an us-versus-them mentality in an arena in which would ideally be characterized by unity.
It is difficult to continually see weekly chapel in a positive light. Chapel becomes more about the consistent, carefully counted attendance rather than the actual worship service itself. Who can enter worship in the right frame of mind with this system? There is a stark contrast between marked attendance and a truly present, engaged spirit.
Why should chapel be forced when regular church isn’t? Yes, chapel is by no means the same as a Sunday church service, but this fact alone doesn’t mean that chapel should be required, especially to the point that it is enforced and monitored by scanners. Covenant College professor Scott Quatro shared his thoughts on the controversy behind mandatory chapel. He stated that forced chapel three times a week makes it “compulsory and routine,” and said he feels this system “erodes engagement with chapel.” He also believes that making chapel voluntary would have a more positive than negative effect on the community because it would “turn chapel into an act of devotion as opposed to mostly an act of duty.”
With the current rigid system in place, it can be inferred that the Covenant chapel committee is starting with the assumption that students will not attend chapel unless they scan themselves in. While many students won’t always attend chapel all three times a week for one reason or another, the scanning system is very likely to make students see chapel in a negative light.
So what is to be done about this method? While Covenant could cut down to only one or two chapels per week, I believe that the real solution lies in getting rid of the scanner system. Allow students to attend, or not attend, based on the honor system. The students who choose not to attend will only be losing out. For the rest of us, chapel will become a voluntary act of devotion. For the sake of worship and the joyful spirit that should attend it, we should choose to do away with scanners and join together to glorify our Creator.