It was a chilly Sunday evening in November of my freshman year when I first attended a chapel service. As I walked down academic row approaching the chapel, I was nervous to enter into a community where I did not know anyone. I was longing for a sense of community that I had to leave behind at home when I moved away to college. When I entered the chapel, I was in awe. The chapel is one of the most beautiful spaces on campus, with its stained glass windows and impressive architecture. I was intimidated by the long aisle that led to a whole new group of strangers waiting for the service to begin. I mustered up the courage to take my first step down the aisle, and when I did, I was greeted by a chapel community member with the most sincere smile. They asked for my name and introduced me to the rest of the community.
Chapel is a community of Protestant Christians that come together every Sunday at 5 p.m. in Egner Chapel. Each chapel service begins with community members gathering in the middle of the worship space and lighting multiple candles so that the flames come together to create one cohesive light throughout the service. “Chapel services are Protestant Christian services, welcoming to all,” explains Callista Isabelle, the College Chaplain. Services consist of prayer, times of reflection, Holy Communion, singing of hymns and Isabelle addressing the congregation with a different message for each service. Attending chapel has given me, as a Christian student, a welcoming, inclusive and supportive community.
Muhlenberg is a Lutheran affiliated college connected to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with a campus Chaplain that is traditionally a Lutheran pastor, and there are three bishops from the ELCA that sit on the college’s board of trustees. There are other signs of Lutheran tradition around campus, like the red doors that grace most entrances to buildings, a traditional Lutheran symbol of welcome. That welcoming vibe that Muhlenberg fosters can be traced back to its Lutheran roots. “Because we are a Lutheran College we welcome people of any and all faiths,” explains Isabelle.
When I first went to chapel services, what drew me in was the warm and welcoming presence of Isabelle. As the College Chaplain, Isabelle has a few different roles on campus; she is an administrator for the college, the pastor for the chapel community on campus and the chaplain for the entire campus community. Isabelle offers a blessing at commencement, sends out the common hour email, supports interfaith engagement and provides messages of support when tragic events takes place. As college chaplain, she provides support to students and staff in times of need.
A recent tragedy hit Muhlenberg particularly hard, the death of beloved coach Mike Donnelly. “She immediately reached out to me and was willing to help in any way possible,” said Marco Blasco ’18, who is on the football team. “We met for coffee one day to talk, and just being able to have someone to listen to me was amazing. She was also there as a pillar of support for my entire team, even for the guys who didn’t know her very well at all. From holding moments of silence in the chapel, to meeting people one on one for coffee, Callista has always stepped up when the campus community needed it the most. As I mentioned before, after the passing of Coach Donnelly, Callista was there to support not only the football players, but anyone who was affected by his death. This is just one example, but there are countless numbers of times where Callista has selflessly given help to those who need it most,” said Blasco.
On Oct. 1, 2017, the Muhlenberg community learned that Isabelle will be leaving the college. Isabelle and her husband are moving to St. Louis, Missouri in December. For students, it’s hard to imagine Muhlenberg without her, as she has been the college chaplain since February of 2012. On Nov. 13, 2017, President Williams informed the Muhlenberg community that Pastor John Gorder will be the next interim chaplain.
Isabelle is hopeful that the chapel will continue to provide support, and encourages student involvement. “I hope that student leadership is carried on in chapel and students continue to extend a wide welcome,” she said.
As a senior reflecting back on four years of chapel service with Isabelle, I know that my time at Muhlenberg would not have been the same without her dedication to this campus.