Harvey Chapel, Photo by Nico Kaz
There are two spaces at Hope College dedicated to prayer: the Saint Anne Oratory and the Harvey Prayer Chapel. No one would study or do homework in the Saint Anne Oratory for several reasons. Mainly because it is a space that feels holy and features a lowered ceiling and large pillars to make the viewer feel small. Coupled with the light that comes in through the stained glass skylight and the icons on the wall, it creates a holy space. In Catholic theology, the intentionally designed space is holy since Jesus is physically present within it through the Eucharistic host stored in the tabernacle.
Similarly, a lot of time, thought, and intentionality was also put into the design and construction of the Harvey Prayer Chapel. One wall is made completely out of wood that came from the Pine Grove. The other wall of the prayer chapel is composed almost entirely of windows that shines natural light during the day and gives a view of the tree tops. The windows make you feel like you’re praying in a forest. The room itself is populated with comfortable couches, chairs and tables to journal or pray at. It is also incredibly quiet despite being right across from the Kletz.
Although it is a nice space, that does not make it holy. Especially in the Reformed Protestant view. In Reformed theology, there is no such thing as a holy room or building. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (which is thought to be constructed in the same place Jesus died and was buried) is no more holy than my living room, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20). So if the room itself isn’t holy, why do I take such issue with students using it as another quiet place to study, or as a space to hold their bible studies? I take such issue with it because while there are no holy places in Reformed theology, there are holy acts.
Prayer is a distinct holy act. In the Reformed mind, I can get no closer to God on earth than when I am in prayer. It is incredibly frustrating to want to use a space dedicated to prayer to pray, only to walk in and be greeted by someone typing away at homework or ten people in a circle having their bible study. Bible study and homework are well and good, but the act of prayer is a distinct act of communion with the living God.
The Harvey Prayer Chapel is a space designed and intended for prayer. We at Hope College have the unique privilege of a space to practice this distinct and important act, and that’s all we should be using it for.