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Great Songs Chapel: Beautiful singing with a beautiful message

Editors Note: To increase opportunities for spiritual development, more than 11 different chapels are offered at Oklahoma Christian University. Assistant Features Editor Cynthia Knox organized this series to provide insight and encourage attendance of alternative chapels available to students. These stories were executed by students in a sophomore-level journalism class. We would like to thank the sponsors for their willingness to share their chapel with the Talon. If you attend this chapel, please comment and share your experience with the Oklahoma Christian community. 

For five years, Professor of Mathematics Don Leftwich carried an idea in his heart that would change Oklahoma Christian University’s campus. In October 2010, Leftwich put his plan to action.

Prior to 2010, Leftwich began noticing fewer and fewer of the songs he grew up singing in church and chapel settings. This realization sparked inspiration within Leftwich to create a chapel setting at Oklahoma Christian to preserve older songs.

Leftwich shared his idea with fellow professors on his hallway in the Prince Engineering Center who supported his efforts, so he took it to the then-Dean of Spiritual Life Chance Vanover. According to Leftwich, Vanover supported the idea, but like many other individuals who heard of Leftwich’s plan, he did not think anyone would come.

Yet, Leftwich persisted. With the help of other professors, Leftwich coined the chapel name “Great Songs.”

“We wanted to promote songs that, over 200 years old, are recognized as being great songs,” Leftwich said. “There’s something about the words and the music that has lasted longer than 10 or 15 years.”

In October 2010, Leftwich’s dream became a reality. Leftwich said he only expected 15-20 older staff members to participate, but was blown away when 150 students and staff members showed up. Since the first meeting, Great Songs has met every Friday in Judd Theater.

Each Friday, attendees can expect to walk into Judd Theater crowded with more than 300 participants. Since the capacity of the room is only 275, several individuals choose to stand on the sides lining the theater.

While the purpose of Great Songs is to celebrate older songs, every week operates under a specific theme with a correlating set of songs. At the beginning of each semester, the theme is typically a praise theme with uplifting songs, and other themes include creation, prayer or certain authors, such as Isaac Watts.

Leftwich said he hopes to continue the chapel as a weekly tradition for as long as he can.

“I don’t want to see those great songs die out, which I was observing years ago,” Leftwich said. “It’s good to bring in new things, but I felt like there was a time and place for remembering our past. I want to see these songs remembered for as long as possible.”

Senior Zachary Waugh began attending Great Songs regularly when he first came to Oklahoma Christian as a freshman. Waugh said his older sister and cousin encouraged him to go at least once because the experience impacted them.

Waugh said while he enjoys main chapel, the atmosphere of Great Songs allows participants to break free of the traditional chapel format.

“In Big Chapel, you have a speaker most days, but in Great Songs, the message is in the songs you sing,” Waugh said. “If you really pay attention to the words in the songs, you get a message even if there isn’t someone up there speaking to you.”

According to Waugh, the most spiritually uplifting time for him is at the end of the school year in April. Each student can vote on their top 10 favorite songs, and the last two Fridays of the school year, they sing them as a group.

“It’s probably the most uplifting two weeks because the songs are very powerful,” Waugh said.

Junior Ashley Cannon also attends Great Songs, but said she was reluctant to at first.

“My friends actually convinced me to go after a few weeks of protest,” Cannon said. “I didn’t grow up going to church, so I didn’t feel like I knew enough songs to be able to enjoy it if I went. Turns out, attending Great Songs has helped me learn songs I never would have heard otherwise.”

Cannon said Great Songs offers a more intimate setting for students and staff to worship.

“It feels more like a community,” Cannon said. “Everyone is just closer together in a smaller room, so we are forced to be close together. The singing also sounds fuller and purposeful. The song leaders don’t use microphones, so that one voice doesn’t sound out among the rest.”

According to Cannon, Great Songs provides an escape from stressful or overwhelming weeks.

“I remember a few times where I had been having a stressful week and didn’t feel like going to chapel,” Cannon said. “Days like this is actually when it’s best. At least one song or verse always connects with me, and I feel a sense of peace come over me.”

Great Songs Chapel occurs every Friday at 11 a.m. in Judd Theater.

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