By Rachel Reiff Ellis
Candler School of Theology
After more than three decades of almost daily use, Emory’s iconic and central worship space, William R. Cannon Chapel, has undergone its first building-wide systematic renovation. Built in 1981, the chapel hosts daily classes and five worship services a week for Candler School of Theology students, plus regular gatherings for other religious groups at Emory.
Updating Cannon was essential to Candler’s mission, according to Dean Jan Love.
“Candler depends on Cannon Chapel as a daily laboratory for training our students, and Brooks Commons is the social heart of the Candler community," she explains. "Our degree programs depend on Cannon Chapel being in good shape, so we initiated this project in order to install state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment in the sanctuary and classrooms, as well as to address long-standing deferred maintenance.”
Work on the improvements began the day after Commencement in May, and the space reopened for use on August 23, just prior to the beginning of Candler’s academic year. Though not visually dramatic, the improvements addressed both the need for more current technology and the need to become more hospitable to all those who worship there.
“Candler’s need for improved facilities intersected with the long-standing need of Emory’s Muslim students for ablution stations adjacent to worship space," Love notes. “The space is now much more functional and friendly for sophisticated education and training, technologically sophisticated Christian worship, as well as for all religious groups' ritual uses.”
Changes to the building include:
Candler alumni associate the visual of both the exterior and the interior of Cannon Chapel with their transformative time at seminary. Jonathan Chapman 10T cites the distinctive architecture as inspiration for his ongoing work with visual ministry, which he blogs about at revjonchapman.com.
“Cannon Chapel is a place that tells a story, and it taught me that we shouldn't just tell stories for the ears but also for the eyes, and in doing so, we can more fully speak to the heart,” he writes.
This year’s opening Convocation at Candler included a special recognition of the key players of the renovation of Cannon Chapel and also featured music that was performed at the chapel’s original service of consecration in 1981.
“This is an opportunity for us to give thanks for this space and highlight the crucial role that Cannon plays in Candler’s life,” says Love.
Don Saliers, Candler’s William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus, blessed the renovation with a prayer during the convocation worship:
Merciful God of all Creation, Architect of Grace,
We give you thanks that you have been our dwelling place in every generation. You cannot be contained in human temples, yet you have promised to be with your people in holy places and where we gather in your Name.
You have given us the privilege of Cannon Chapel as a place of worship, learning and hospitality. We come this day, O God, with grateful hearts for all the lavish gifts given here over time and changing circumstance:
For all who, with vision and skill, brought this Chapel into being,
For all who have worked to care for and sustain this place,
For all who have sung and preached and prayed here,
For every life touched and challenged here.
On this day, O God Most Holy, we give you thanks and praise for the promise made to future generations of students, faculty and diverse communities of worship and learning who will gather here in years to come.
And for the beauty and purpose of this renovation: new light, new sound, new materials, new rooms, new hopes, new movement,
We invoke your blessing and abiding grace as we dedicate this renewal of Cannon Chapel. May it witness to what is good and true and just; may it be a blessing to the Candler School of Theology, the larger University and to our surrounding communities.
Let the work and prayer and song of this place empower the mission of this school and its people.
May future generations, as we recall now in the words of T. S. Eliot, find here a space where “We have knelt where prayer has been valid.”
Through Christ our Light, our Word, our Feast, our Teacher and Liberator who marches with us still.