More than half a century ago the school community came together to do something extraordinary: build the Chapel.
In the early 1960s, the school – University School, at the time – was in the midst of a renewal, and students of the day rallied behind the idea of building a chapel. “It was a project of huge symbolic significance, giving a sense of purpose and activity. As one student participant indicated, it meant that ‘our energy was channeled into a project that was bigger than ourselves,’” writes Ian Mugridge in his soon-to-be-released book, To Learn, To Lead, To Serve, about the history of SMUS.
For months, between 1961 and 1962, the students invested themselves in the project, from inception through to construction. Many spent their time outside of the classroom planning, fundraising and building the Chapel.
The Chapel project, Ian writes, was the manifestation of the positive changes being made to the school environment and school spirit at the time.
To this day, the building remains a place deeply connected to the school’s history, and a space where the school community can gather together to reflect upon our sense of purpose.
“The kind of messages we present in Chapel are ones that are about who we are as a community, all of us together. And Chapel is the place we gather,” Rev. Keven Fletcher says about Chapel as it functions today.
As the SMUS community has grown over the last few years, we’ve found ourselves having to divide our student population into smaller groups due to physical space constraints in our Chapel.
“Our increasingly taller students have outgrown this space. More importantly, with a recognition of student leadership in Chapel, we need to set up those students for success. It’s very difficult for clear communication when your audience isn’t facing you,” Rev. Fletcher says. “The Chapel wonderfully suited the community at a time when we were smaller in numbers, and when people were more accustomed to listening without having to see what was happening.”
The next time you walk into the Chapel, you’ll notice some physical changes to the interior space. The rows of wooden benches have been replaced by comfortable chairs and new carpeting, all arranged with a focus centred on a raised platform on the west wall.
The only changes to the Chapel are physical. The intangible elements – the tone, the love, the sense of purpose, the deep connection to the school’s history –have not changed.
“Once people get past noticing the carpet and the chairs, they’re going to see that the wood walls are still there, the historical plaques are still there, the tapestry is still there, the feel of the room is still there, the full history is still there.”
Because the physical elements of the reworked space are movable (the chairs and the platform), the seating capacity in the Chapel has increased slightly. It’s not enough of an increase, though, to accommodate the full school community just yet. But that time will come.
The School’s Master Plan – first shared with the community in 2006 and recently revised — has addressed the eventual need for a larger chapel where the entire Senior School and staff can gather while recognizing the Chapel’s role in the school’s history. The structure will be retained and the original pews are also being preserved. As many pews as possible will be placed along the outer walls in the Chapel’s new set-up, and the remainder will be stored until the Chapel is expanded, hopefully in a few years’ time.
Given its flexibility now, the space will become an even more significant hub on campus. Apart from Chapel services, it will host concerts, meetings, assemblies and large group gatherings in a space that can be set up based on the needs of the event.
It’s a balancing act, Rev. Fletcher says, of having to make necessary physical changes to such a significant piece of the school while honouring the school’s history.
“We really value what people have put into this place over the years,” Rev. Fletcher says. “The tone of Chapel is about being a part of something very much larger than what’s happening on a given day. The names of the students on the plaques on the wall go back to the early 1900s – current students anticipate where their grad plaque will hold its place alongside them, with future years to follow. It’s all reflective of our whole school community. That’s what this Chapel is.”