Along with the chattering of student voices, the din of students eating on the Caf balcony, and the typing on laptops outside of Bobby B’s, the clamor and clatter of construction on the upcoming Lyle and Grace Prescott Prayer Chapel has filled Caf Lane for the past two semesters. While embodying something new and something forthcoming, the Lyle and Grace Prescott Prayer dips deep into Point Loma Nazarene University’s history and roots as well.
Ron Benefiel, a professor of sociology and Christian ministry at PLNU, as well as the lead consultant for mission resources and pastoral relations at the PLNU School of Theology and Christian Ministry, is uniquely tied to the history of the prayer chapel. When Benefiel himself was a student at PLNU, along with the students Gene Schandorff, Dan Royer and Steve Reese, he decided that the campus needed a prayer chapel of its own.
“We had sort of a prayer closet,” said Benefiel. “We didn’t have a prayer chapel. It was off of the gym, and it was big enough for maybe six people. It was sort of like the passage of scripture that says ‘Go into your inner closet and to your father in secret.’”
Seeking something more substantial, the four students lobbied the Board of Trustees and the administration for permission to raise the funds and build a prayer chapel. Eventually, they secured this permission and began fundraising. They fundraised at churches, at school classes and clubs, and had a jar for donations in the cafeteria. A new library was being built at the time, and the students offered to move the books from the old library to the new one so the school could donate the money they would have used to the chapel instead.
In the end, they raised the necessary $35,000 needed to build the chapel.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot of money now,” said Benefiel. “But back then, in Pasadena, you could buy a house for $35,000 dollars and that’s how much we had to raise. So in today’s dollars it would be about ten times that. And we were able to raise the money.”
Using an architect the school had used before, a simple design for a chapel strictly for prayer was conceived and built. The chapel was dedicated in 1972, gaining its name from two PLNU alumni when Lyle Prescott died in a fishing accident while serving as a missionary. That same year, PLNU announced it was moving to the new San Diego campus. The prayer chapel was the only structure the school moved with them in the change.
The prayer chapel stood in its usual spot until the new science building went in and the chapel needed to be moved slightly. However, its age made this difficult, and the decision to build a new chapel was made. A new design was crafted, keeping the original stained glass window, and many workers contributed free services for the chapel to be built. The dedication of the new chapel has been set by PLNU for May 1, 2018.
Benefiel says that the new chapel will be iconic, but that it remains to be seen what it truly symbolizes.
“Will it symbolize just a wonderful architectural piece?” said Benefiel. “Will it be sort of a monument to the past or even to the future with the architecture? Or will it be a place of prayer? Will it be a place where life decisions are made before God? That is something only future students can decide.”