Survival of the Chapel Slip


Students often use their chapel slips to summarize that day’s talk through artwork or notes.

Since Northwestern’s early days, staff have been tracking chapel attendance. For many decades, students were assigned a particular seat in the Van Peursem Hall chapel, with the freshmen in front and seniors in the balcony. Student workers reviewed sections and tabulated attendance.

The system meant you might not get to sit next to your best friend, but you could make a new one. Some couples’ chapel-seat introductions eventually led to marriage proposals.

In 1978 the college announced a new chapel policy. Assigned seating was out, chapel slips were in. Students submitted slips with their names and ID numbers on them, and were encouraged to write comments as well. A Beacon article noted that the comments included amateur poetry, wisecracks, complaints, compliments and suggestions for improvement.

Darla Hettinga, Northwestern’s student life assistant from 2002 to 2018, remembers one student who wrote “Happy Birthday” on his ticket nearly every day. Another conveyed his ID number using Roman numerals, stymieing work-study students who had to decipher it before entering the number into the system.

Just as some students tried to get an unwarranted credit during the assigned-seating days by having a friend take their seat, some tried to cheat the chapel-slip system by having a friend turn in a slip for them or by saying they lost theirs.

Sometimes, though, the lost-slip pleas were legit. Last January a student found the December 7, 1992, chapel card of Jason Moser ’94 jammed between the wood trim and wall in Christ Chapel’s balcony. Moser doesn’t recall losing it, but he says, “I probably asked for a second slip.”

Chapel services are now held from 11:05 to 11:55 a.m. on Tuesdays and from 10:05 to 10:30 a.m. on Fridays. Students are expected to accumulate 28 credits per semester but are given a total of 65 credit options from the regular chapel services, as well as through other special worship and discipleship opportunities.

Dean of Christian Formation Mark DeYounge ’08 talks about Northwestern’s attendance expectations from the lens of accountability.

“People that love you a lot hold you accountable,” he says. “For example, my mom loves me a lot, and she expects me to be present when we celebrate Christmas. Part of being a family is showing up when the family gets together. We are the Raider family—Christ has called us brothers and sisters—and accountability is part of that. Accountability isn’t outside of love, but a part of it.”

As the fall 2020 semester began, it appeared that chapel slips would be going the way of the freshman beanie, replaced by a mobile app. The goal was to decrease congestion caused by students stopping to turn in their chapel slips, but some technological glitches led to the return of the cards this spring semester.

For now, the days of chapel slips aren’t numbered. But students’ chapel attendance still is.

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