WSU chapel at center of controversy after its renovation

Wichita State University (KSN File photo)

WICHITA, Kansas – The renovation of a more than 50-year-old chapel on the Wichita State University campus is igniting controversy in the community.

This comes after pews were removed from the chapel to allow more space for all faiths to kneel and pray.

Officials with the WSU Student Government Association tell KSN a student came to them six months ago asking for more space inside the chapel for prayer and bible studies.

A resolution was formed and passed by the SGA and was met with positive reviews by students.  But others in the community aren’t on board with the change.

Teban Azad, the vice president of the Muslim Student Association at WSU, says he’s pleased with the added space at Grace Memorial Chapel to better practice his faith.

“The pews, because they were bolted to the ground and they weren’t mobile, they weren’t able to practice their religion that accurately or passionately.” Said Azad.

The removal of the pews came after a resolution was passed six months ago by the SGA that provided a more flexible prayer space for those who intended to use the chapel.

While many like Azad have seen it as a positive, some WSU alumni and members of the community have taken to Facebook to voice their frustrations.

WSU alum Connie Miller McLean said, “I really am offended the university made the decision to remove the pews from the chapel to accommodate a few. I do not think this was the intention when it was built and money donated.”

SGA President Joseph Shepard says the decision was to honor what Mrs. Harvey D. Grace, who donated the chapel in 1963, intended for it to be used.

“A lot of people are saying, are turning this into a Mulism vs. Christianity thing, when that’s not the case,” said Shepard.  “We really want to look at it from all perspectives, whether you’re Buddhist, whether you practice Hinduism, whether you practice Christianity, we want to make sure that this space is a space for everybody.  I’m glad that we’ve taken the first few steps in removing the pews, adding the carpet and making it more open for both MSA members, for Muslim students here on campus, but also for all faiths.”

KSN spoke with Dr. Eric Sexton, the Vice President of Student Affairs at WSU.  Sexton says the school is working on a process to engage all those concerned about the Grace Chapel renovations.

There could be a town hall meeting to allow everyone to voice their concerns.

WSU president John Bardo released a statement, saying in March 2015 a committee was formed to recommend the proper configuration and uses of the chapel to honor all aspects of the gift to the university.  He goes on to say, “Our goal should be exactly what Mrs. Grace set out to do in her gift, to have an all-faiths chapel that is welcoming to all religious groups on campus.”

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