By Kate Ellis, News Editor
September 14, 2023
When Ouachita enrollment hit its peak for the first time in 57 years, thus making Jones Performing Arts Center incapable of holding all students for Tuesday morning Chapel, James Taylor, director of campus ministries, was tasked with finding a solution. For the first time in Ouachita history, the student body is split among two locations for the weekly chapel: the seats of JPAC and the pews of Berry Chapel. Overflow chapel in Berry consists of acoustic worship, a medley of guitar, piano and Cajon drum led by sophomore Christian studies and Christian ministries major Blair Yager, and a live stream of the larger chapel gathering in JPAC. Yager, who has a long history of leading worship, shares how this unprecedented event came to be.
“James Taylor, Larry Grayson, Joel Winters, Ben Sells and a few others had a meeting about what to do for chapel overflow worship and they thought I would be a good fit,” Yager said.”They reached out to me this summer about the opportunity. I’ve led worship since I was in the 4th grade, so I’ve led at many different churches and events. I interned at a church in Little Rock all summer, and now I am currently the youth worship leader for Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock. All of these experiences have helped me grow tremendously into the leadership roles I’ve been given. If it weren’t for those opportunities growing up then I would not be musically or spiritually skilled enough to lead today.”
The acoustic worship in Berry is a large shift from the sound systems, light fixtures and overall encompassing stage presence in JPAC. However, this change is proving to be a positive one, with both students and leaders in agreement that the acoustic sound and close knit chapel building makes for a more intimate worship environment.
“I personally love the atmosphere in the Chapel. Since it will always be an acoustic set, it’s more vulnerable and raw,” Yager said. “Everyone’s voices echo in the room so you can hear everyone around you singing, which is super encouraging and refreshing to hear your peers around you worship. It feels more like a church and that everyone wants to be there, not another class that people are required to go to.”
Not only did overflow chapel succeed in finding a space for over 150 students, but it has also increased student’s desire to attend. Alaina Moore, junior accounting and finance major, shares her appreciation for this new development.
“The acoustic worship in Berry is awesome,” Moore said. “Hearing everyone sing around you in Berry brings this feeling of fellowship and joy that isn’t available in JPAC. The atmosphere is similar to that of Refuge, and it lends to a serene time of worship. The acoustic worship is very intentional and genuine. It’s not showy and everyone is just invited into a space of communion with God. The people in Berry seem to want to worship and draw near to God and it leads to an environment filled with joy and peace. If overflow Chapel was ever offered again, I would jump at the opportunity to participate in it. I think it’s a great space of genuine worship, and I would love to be able to have Chapel in Berry every semester.”
Whether this be a long or short term solution, it is safe to say that Berry Chapel is breathing new life into what is already an incredible weekly gathering among students, staff and faculty.