Dear Chapel House community,
Since the Fall of 2013 I have had the great honor serving as director of Chapel House. I’d like to share with you some upcoming plans for one of Colgate’s iconic buildings, which I know is of great importance to many of you. Chapel House was built in 1959, which makes the building and the majority of its systems well over 50 years old.
With the assistance of an outside firm, we recently completed building condition assessments on all of our buildings on campus. Chapel House was identified to be in great need of many deferred maintenance upgrades such as windows, roofing, and mechanical replacements, as these systems have reached the end of their life cycle. As we do these upgrades, we also plan to make this building code compliant with respect to ADA accessibility and all other code requirements. These upgrades will extend the overall life of the building and improve the energy efficiency and comfort.
I have been at Colgate for over 25 years as a member of the religion department and Jewish studies program. When I was hired at Colgate, I was extremely curious and interested in Chapel House. Thus, I was happy that Professor John Ross Carter graciously invited me and my wife to stay at the House during my first visit after I was hired. Since then I have valued Chapel House for its peace and quiet, its spiritual sensibility, its religious books, art, and music, and also for the honesty and simplicity of its modernist architecture.
As the new director, I am committed to preserving the legacy of Professors Kenneth Morgan and John Ross Carter, while evolving Chapel House so it can meet the spiritual and religious needs of all generations in the 21st century. The original donor and Professor Morgan had tremendous foresight in founding Chapel House as a place for individual silent retreat in a natural setting, with no particular religious affiliation or agenda. Given the noisy fast pace of contemporary life this vision remains extremely relevant.
I believe now is a good time to pause and reflect on what most needs to be preserved and what could be enhanced at Chapel House. This task is particularly timely as we make necessary renovations to a 56-year-old building that has some critical structural and mechanical issues.
I have heard from a number of guests, alumni, students, and faculty of Colgate about this upcoming project. Let me first say that I am thankful to learn that Chapel House has been such an important part of your lives. Respecting and preserving that which has made Chapel House important to you remains a central goal of mine, as a well as a goal of the advisory committee, which we now have formed. This group includes the University Chaplain, administrators, and a few especially interested and committed faculty members. Colgate has fiduciary responsibility for Chapel House and for the proper stewardship of its endowment.
To focus our thinking about the future of Chapel House, our advisory committee met over the fall semester to begin to develop a future-looking “vision statement
” for Chapel House that is rooted in its important past. In drafting this statement, we began with the Deed of Gift of the anonymous donor and made it the driving ideal in our visioning process. An older vision statement, which you may have seen, is found in a booklet in Chapel House titled, “How Chapel House Came to Be.” This statement also emerged from the Deed of Gift, and has long been considered the “vision” of Ken Morgan and John Ross Carter. The current advisory committee was asked to integrate this statement as it envisions the meaningfulness of Chapel House for current and future generations. Now that the advisory board has prepared a first draft, our next step is to share it for community feedback, especially from those of you who have such love for Chapel House. You will therefore be invited to any of a series of upcoming fora to express your views on Chapel House. These will occur in the next few weeks. We will also soon have a section on our website where you can submit feedback if you cannot attend one of the sessions.
Let me assure you that we aim to preserve the spirit of Chapel House. There are no plans to turn it into a generic conference center, a venue for classrooms, or an open-ended student or faculty center. Such uses of the space would be at odds with Chapel House’s mission and thereby would not have the support of the advisory board or the Colgate administration. As director, I too would oppose such uses.
As only the third director in Chapel House’s history, I am honored to serve in this role. On behalf of the advisory board and Colgate University, I assure you that we have been and will remain ever mindful of preserving the Chapel House’s ability to serve as a quiet retreat house for individuals. In 1960, Chapel House was created with a very forward-looking and optimistic sense of the human capacity for healing, growth, and change. In that spirit, we invite you to be forward-looking and optimistic about carrying this mission into the future.
Steven Kepnes, Ph.D. Director
- Richard Braaten, Professor of Psychology
- Lesleigh Cushing, Associate Professor of Religion
- Georgia Frank, Associate Dean of the Faculty
- Robert Garland, Professor of Classics
- Mark Shiner, University Chaplain