Ukirk Journeying with young adults as we follow Christ

 Kissing In the Chapel, Praying In the Frat House: Wrestling With Faith and College

Adam Copeland, editor
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, 2014
217 pages 

Kissing in the Chapel, book cover

AUTHOR'S THESIS

Although Kissing in the Chapel includes essays by twenty-one different authors, the editor’s thesis is evident by a common thread of thought that runs throughout the book.  The editor states that the diverse collection of essays are evidence that “reflections provide insight into how faith can deepen—and complicate—every aspect of one’s college experience” (xii).  The overall claim of the book is that this deepening of both experience and faith is most often fostered through three aspects of college life: living in community, the guidance of mentors and models, and experiences that “broaden the horizons” of students by forcing them outside of their “comfort zones.”

DEVELOPMENT OF ARGUMENT

The editorial introduction to Kissing in the Chapel sets the stage for the essays to follow. Each of the book’s five sections begins with an editorial introduction and ends with three “Questions for Discussion.”  Copeland provides a 5-section map for the book’s organization as follows:

  • Section I: Tradition: Come Ye Disconsolate, includes essays on students’ experience with their expectations of the traditional campus. 
  • Section II: Who Am I? Who is God? What Am I to Do? This section contains stories of "call" and an exploration of the search for one’s purpose and vocation. 
  • Section III: Sex and Sexuality: One Body, Many Members. While essays throughout the book include some approaches to sexuality, this third section more directly address questions of coming out, gender identity, and sexual mores.
  • Section IV: Walking with Others (Or, Sometimes, Running from Them). While wrestling with faith is often a communal activity, the essays in this section dig into the individual aspects of working out one's faith. 
  • Section V: Studying Off-Campus, Studying Within, includes essays that expand the scope of campus life to summers, semesters abroad, and the inner city.  Short introductions to each section serve to orient the reader to the particular type of college and faith experiences to follow (see Copeland introduction, p. xiii-xiv).

AUTHOR PRESUPPOSITIONS

The editor, Adam J. Copeland, is an ordained clergyperson in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and faculty director for faith and leadership and instructor of religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Born in 1983, Copeland self-identifies as a Millennial.  After years of hearing Millennials (those born 1980-2000) described in generalized, stereotypical ways both inside and outside the church, Copeland says, “This book came about because I was tired of hearing my generation described by outside ‘experts’ in ways that sounded vaguely familiar, but lacked the passion and particularity of individual stories so important for true understanding” (xiii).  Because his “faith calls for a freedom to listen to diverse voices,” Copeland has edited this collection in order to include voices that break down these generalizations and stereotypes in diverse ways, including “even and especially ones that make [Copeland] reexamine [his own] convictions” (xiv).

THEOLOGICAL NORMS

It is difficult to identify any overarching theological norms in a collection of essays written by twenty-one authors.  Those authors bring perspectives that are informed by atheist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Evangelical, indigenous/nature-based, Lutheran, Methodist, and other theological worldviews.  Most of the essays describe theological understandings that seem to evolve from what the authors tend to describe as uninformed, closed-minded, and inherited views of God and spirituality to perspectives that seem to the authors to be more mature, more open to mystery and diversity, and genuinely derived from the experiences of the individual authors rather than imposed on them from outside forces such as family and culture.  While these various theological norms do not all agree with the editor’s personal and denominational faith, they are reflective of Copeland’s theological worldview, which “calls for a freedom to listen to diverse voices.”  Because of this freedom, “no story has been censored out of theological concern” (xiv).

AIM OF BOOK

The overall aim of Kissing in the Chapel is to share the stories Millennials, and how the experiences of college and young adulthood have interacted with their faith and spirituality.  Copeland writes, “It is my fervent hope that these pages will serve as a valuable resource both to those in higher education and to those in Christian ministry” (xv).

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Kissing in the Chapel is a valuable resource for all who care about the spiritual lives of college students and young adults.  This includes those who work for colleges and universities, parents, collegiate ministers, congregations, and students themselves.  Some of the essays in this collection will likely make some readers feel very uncomfortable, but this is one of the book’s greatest strengths.  Much of the experiences of the late teens and early twenties involve the search for identity, which can often lead in uncomfortable and sometimes destructive directions.  Many of these essays force the reader to view these quests through the lenses of others for whom identity and purpose are often much more complicated than simply choosing a major.  Collegiate faculty, staff, and parents will benefit from reading Kissing in the Chapel because it can better enable them to understand, relate to, and empathize with a very important aspect of their students’ lives.  Collegiate ministers will benefit by gaining a wider scope of how faith and spirituality can be lived out in the lives of individual students who bring with them individual stories and experiences.  Students themselves will likely find in the pages of this book at least one “kindred spirit,” with whom they can identify.  The discussion questions at the end of each chapter can be very helpful for all readers.  More than anything, Kissing in the Chapel is a valuable addition to resources in the area of collegiate ministries coming from the traditional mainline churches.

The only way that Kissing in the Chapel could be viewed by some readers as having any weaknesses is if readers come to this book expecting it to be something it is not and that it never claims to be.  This book is not instructional in doctrine, theology, or Bible.  It gives no advice or tips for collegiate ministry.  It does not even advocate for college ministries or for the church in general, although it often portrays the important role of supportive communities in the lives of students.  Kissing in the Chapel is a collection of stories intended to give a glimpse of the great diversity of faith experiences that can take place during the college years.  Readers are left to do with those stories what they will.

Review by Everett Miller