Photo courtesy of Trinity University’s digital access management.
The experience of listening to Silent Night being sung by hundreds of hushed voices as you watch the dancing candle flames filling Parker Chapel is truly a beautiful thing, and one which makes me extremely proud of my university. Although Trinity may not be a remarkably Christian school (despite our “covenant relationship” with the Presbyterian Church USA), we still hold onto this traditional worship service and celebrate the coming of Christ together.
Seeing our humble chapel filled to the brim with people is a drastic change from when there are ecumenical services offered by the university chaplain, which typically draw abysmal attendance. It usually takes a student organization such as Catholic Student Group (CSG) or Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) to produce any sort of crowd in this building.
Vespers is different, however. There’s something about the biblical readings, collection of traditional carols and candlelight which draws hundreds of students to haunt the halls of Parker Chapel, while on every other Sunday they would avoid it like the plague. Something in the spirit of the event attracts us, even in the midst of final exams and holiday-induced stress, as we collectively decide to take part in a tradition which is so unapologetically Christian.
The first time I experienced Vespers, I was in awe. It amazed me to see so many of my non-believer peers attend an event which had prayers, Gospel readings and meditations on the true meaning of Christmas. Instead of choosing to just go to the fun Christmas on Oakmont and eat tamales at Dean Tuttle’s house, they also decided to spend an hour of their time at a church service. I questioned why a secular student would want to attend such an event but not even believe in the person of Jesus Christ, let alone the fact that he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary.
At first I believed it might be because of the music. The Trinity Choir sings beautiful carols, and many love to hear these well-known songs despite their religious affiliation. It’s almost universal how much we enjoy Christmas music.
But that can’t be it. Just two days prior we have the Christmas Concert, where the choir along with other musical groups from across campus all perform even more carols, and without the ‘interruption’ of biblical readings and prayers. If people just wanted to hear some good music, they would already have an event to attend.
So what is the reason, then? What is it about this event, which has been celebrated for decades on Trinity’s campus, that makes it so beloved by our changing campus demographic (even as we become more and more liberal and secular with each passing year)?
I believe people come to these events, not in spite of their traditional aspects, but because of them. In a campus bubble which is quickly growing further and further away from traditional lifestyles and sentiments, our student body is hungry for remnants of the culture we know is missing from our lives. Maybe we grew up going to a similar service with our families on Christmas, or maybe we’ve never really experienced anything like Vespers. Either way, it’s out of the ordinary for many of us, which draws us in.
It’s also the simplicity of the event which pulls us in. Even though the incarnation of Christ isn’t simple by nature, the story of a mother and a child can be understood by anyone. It is a refreshing change from the messages which are pushed onto us during the Christmas season: that this time of year is all about buying and receiving gifts, and the best way to prepare for December 25 is to shop, shop, shop. Young people today are turned off by this vapid consumerism, often yearning for something more. The story of the Nativity carries with it a plainness which makes it relatable to all, making it all the more beautiful and genuine in its celebration.
This is exactly why Christmas Vespers is so necessary. It is more than just a fun and an easy draw for admissions staff (I’m looking at you, fountain dunk, magic stones and Leeroy’s toes), but instead an authentic display of love and joy for the true reason for the season. I’m proud to go to a university that not only allows such a beautiful display of faith, but promotes it, and I surely hope that it continues for generations more of Trinity students.