By Kim Ji-young
Since Ewha was established by the Methodist Episcopal missionary Mary F. Scranton in 1886, Ewha made it a rule that all Ewha students are required to attend chapel once a week regardless of their religion. Ewha has since maintained the chapel system to promote its fundamental philosophy, Christianity, to Ewha students and professors, and provide an opportunity for Ewha students to gather together and cultivate community consciousness.
However, the chapel system has also been a topic of endless controversy among Ewha students. Attending chapel is a requisite to graduate, but some students, especially non-Christian, find it burdensome to attend every semester until graduation, while others think it is a waste of time because it is not helpful for getting a job or living a successful life. The Chaplain’s Office has been putting forth its utmost efforts to change these attitudes by developing chapel beyond its roots as a religious service. Dance and musical performances, called “cultural chapel,” were started in 1995 and “conversation chapel,” which offers students opportunities to meet celebrities and notable people who have devoted their life to social service, was started in 1993. The result is that chapel has begun to approach Ewha students in a friendlier way and offer valuable experience. A 20-minute-long ballet performance, “Jonah,” which took place from October 30 to November 3 during regular chapel hours is one example. According to the Chaplain’s Office, “Jonah,” which was choreographed by Professor Shin Eun-kyung (Dance) and performed by the Ewha Ballet Ensemble consisting of 37 Dance majors, received much better responses from students than other ordinary worship chapels.
Professor Shin says that she started choreographing “Jonah” early in August this year. While Shin was searching for the subject for a school chapel ballet, the Bible story of Jonah caught her eyes. Shin found Jonah similar to modern people who do not pay attention to the wretched in society, instead only concerning themselves with their own security and well-being. However, Jonah’s attitude changes and he comes to depending fully on God’s will, something Shin says modern people should learn.
“By introducing Jonah in the form of a ballet, I wanted to communicate God’s message of sacrifice and love towards other people,” Shin said. “The significance of ‘Jonah’ compared with other dances lies in its realistic depiction of the movement from selfishness to serving God, and in its spectacular performance. I intended to make the movements of all dancers in ‘Jonah’ easy to understand by using mime. Also, I carefully selected the music and costumes in ‘Jonah’ because those affect students’ comprehension.”
Many non-Christian students seemed to have also enjoyed “Jonah,” and wished to see more “cultural chapels.” “Since I am not a Christian, I usually don’t pay much attention to the preaching during the chapel hours. But ‘Jonah’ was really interesting to watch and it was easy to understand the biblical values and spirit,” said Oh Se-in (Mathematical and Physical Sciences, 1).
On the other hand, some Ewha students expressed unhappiness with “Jonah,” saying that just performing the dance without explanation could have caused misconceptions among those who do not have biblical knowledge. Hwang So-young (English Lang. & Lit., 2) said, “In ‘Jonah,’ Nineveh was shwon as a splendid city through dancers with dazzling costumes and exotic music.This attracted many students, but, in the Bible, Nineveh is degraded and evil. Also, other more important scenes from a biblical perspective, such as Jonah being trapped in the whale’s stomach and praying to God for help, were rather boring. So the Christian spirit which ‘Jonah’ tried to convey was not properly delivered but will only breed misunderstandings.”
Ha Soo-hyun (Law, 1), though she is not a Christian, said that she thinks the chapel gives her a good time to think about herself seriously and to learn how to live a life filled with love and devotion to poor people. Kwak Hee-eun (Statistics, 2) said, “Because I can see various great cultural performances for free, without taking extra time, I really enjoy attending the chapel. Among the types of chapel, I like it best, when celebrities come and have conversations with us.” However, as a Christian, Kwak says, she does not think Ewha’s chapel is an authentic worship service like the ones she usually attends at church. She rather finds it an “earthly chapel” where she can feel proud of being an Ewha student,achieve psychological stability and learn useful knowledge to live life successfully. Still, Kwak says, she hopes the school will develop more satisfying religious programs for chapel, even though it is difficult to keep balance between the needs of Christian and non-Christian students,.
Head Chaplain Chung Yong-seok said that the school and the Chaplain’s office are trying to reflect students’ various opinions. Chung said that the school chapel cannot be the same as a church service because the basic purpose of chapel is different. While churches try to preach the Christian religion, the school chapel tries to teach the virtues of Christianity, such as love, sacrifice, and devotion, in various forms, while attempting not to be too serious and boring. “In an attempt to not be a one-sided chapel, we are trying to give students more opportunities to participate in chapel by making special chapel programs like ‘Thanksgiving Praise Day’ in which Ewha students can enjoy their friends’ musical and dance performances. We also have baptismal ceremonies, and a special chapel for graduating students, so that they can feel sense of belonging,” said Chung.
Chung said that the Chaplain’s Office is planning to present a one-act play during chapel hours to provide concise knowledge and make a strong impression of Christianity on students. Chung said that the Chaplain’s Office is also planning to initiate “English chapel.” “Since the world is becoming globalized, Ewha has tried to increase its international competitiveness by increasing classes in English. And because exchange students, and International Studies majors are increasing, we have decided to try English chapel soon. English chapel will be optional; only students who wish to listen to services in English would attend,” added Chung.