PLNU Launches New Branch Out Chapel Options For Students

Jong Yoon leading Praying the Scriptures. Photo courtesy of Kirstyn Teegarden.

In an effort to satisfy students’ desire for deeper studies into scripture during chapel, Point Loma Nazarene University has expanded its chapel offerings this year by launching year-long Branch Out Chapel sessions. 

Branch Out Chapel is offered on Fridays during traditional chapel time with two session options available for students to attend: Reading the Scriptures and Praying the Scriptures.

Associate Director of Discipleship Ministries and Creative Arts Kirstyn Teegarden explained that there have been many different versions of Branch Out Chapel in the past. She said the concept was experimented with since before the pandemic with Branch Out Chapel happening a few times a semester.

“Sometimes that’s looked like class chapels where you’re gathering with your class or Living Spaces where you’re gathering with your dorm, or maybe it’s just different locations with different ways to worship at each one,” Teegarden said.

PLNU’s chapel team started throwing around the idea of developing Branch Out Chapel into a weekly option toward the end of last school year, according to Teegarden. 

She said the team landed on the two session focuses – Reading the Scriptures and Praying the Scriptures – after mulling over many ideas at multiple planning meetings and listening to feedback from one-on-one conversations with students and CHATs, or chapel advisory teams, where a group of students are invited to ask questions and provide feedback on chapel.

“We just felt we were hearing a lot of people saying they wanted to explore scripture on a deeper level and in different ways, and that there was a hunger for that,” Teegarden said.

Fourth-year computer science major Noah Shaw, who was vocal about his dissatisfaction with chapel and created a chapel petition regarding chapel’s teachings last year, was invited to a CHAT meeting this past March. He said he and many other students are thankful for Branch Out Chapel because it communicates that the chapel team hears and cares about students’ voices.

“I think a lot of students are excited about Branch Out Chapel because it shows that the chapel planning team has listened to students’ concerns and complaints from last year,” Shaw said. “It is a good step in the right direction for the spiritual well-being of our campus.”

Shaw attended Reading the Scriptures on the first Branch Out Friday on Sept. 8, which is held in Brown Chapel and led by professor of New Testament Kara Lyons-Pardue this semester, with professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Brad Kelle taking over next semester. Shaw said he got a lot out of the session.

“It was one of the most impactful chapels I’ve been to,” Shaw said.

Lyons-Pardue said she enjoyed the session as well. She has been excited about the idea since it was pitched to her early this past summer because, as a Bible professor, “more Bible is always better,” and reading scripture is beneficial because it is both life-giving and challenging.

However, she was concerned with how Reading the Scriptures would supplement, be different enough from and not compete with PLNU’s required theology courses. Ultimately, it was the ability to focus on a specific passage of scripture over a longer period of time that hooked her.

“When they [the chapel team] said, ‘You could do it on a passage of scripture that you’re passionate about,’ they had me,” Lyons-Pardue said.

Goodwin Hall resident director Jong Yoon leads the Praying the Scriptures sessions, which are held at Ryan Deck. Teegarden said that when choosing leaders for the Branch Out sessions, Yoon leading the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina was the first idea to come to mind because he had been vocal about wanting to see more spiritual disciplines at PLNU. 

Yoon said that praying the scriptures means a lot to him because it has been a great tool for helping him connect with the Holy Spirit, especially in the early days of his relationship with Jesus.

“I am a skeptic by nature, someone that trusts in logic and reason,” Yoon said. “The practice of Lectio Divina taught me that I can learn and study scripture all day long, which is so imperative for anyone that dares to follow Jesus.”

Despite it being a new practice, Yoon said he believes the first Branch Out session went well.

“The students seemed very engaged and willing to learn a new rhythm,” Yoon said.

Branch Out Chapel will continue throughout the academic year, but Teegarden said she doesn’t know what Branch Out will look like beyond that yet. The chapel team is open to feedback and response.