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The Church in the Chapel

Forming of the Congregation

The Church in the Chapel is an interdenominational Christian community of Northwestern students, staff, faculty and local community residents who worship at Northwestern's Alice S. Millar Chapel. The chapel building, dedicated November 17,1963, was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Foster G. McGaw.

Northwestern University was founded by Methodists in 1851. Since early in the university's history, no congregation1.jpgformal congregation or specific denominational affiliation was established, although regular Sunday services were held and students were encouraged to attend. After the construction of the Alice S. Millar Chapel, a group of students, staff, faculty and community residents began attending services conducted by the University Chaplain on a continuing basis. These services were referred to as "the church in the chapel." In 1971, these regular attendees considered the idea of forming a formal congregation. After much discussion, a nondenominational group was formed.

The congregation held its first official business meeting on May 9,1971. It chose to retain "The Church in the Chapel" as the official name of the congregation. Membership is by affirmation of the covenant statement and presupposes Christian baptism and a profession of Christian faith. Individuals may also be members of another church.

On February 20, 1972, sixty-one people affirmed the covenant statement for the first time in Alice S. Millar Chapel. In September of 1979, over 200 members reaffirmed the covenant statement.

University Chaplain Ralph G. Dunlop served as pastor from The Church in the Chapel's inception until 1973.threechaplains-imx.jpg
James E. Avery took over as the second pastor in 1973 and served until 1986.
In 1986, University Chaplain Timothy S. Stevens became the third pastor of The Church in the Chapel.
The University Chaplain conducts Sunday services in Millar Chapel only during the academic year. In order to have year round services, members of the congregation took on the responsibility for conducting services during recesses and summers. At first these services were held in members' homes, but they moved later to Vail Chapel.


The Church in the Chapel has a well defined committee structure. The congregation of the affirmed, when meeting as a whole, forms the governing body. However, an elected Steering Committee handles the actual business of the congregation. Four other committees were originally created:

Liturgy Committee
  • planned the liturgy services during academic breaks and provided lectors and ushers during the regular year.
Education Committee
  • set up a Sunday school for children and later became known as the Pastoral Committee when its role expanded to include adult study groups.
Social Life Committee
  • organized social activities such as dinners and retreats.
Social Action Committee
  • collected the Sunday offerings and determined how to distribute the funds to appropriate charities.
  • The Social Action Committee's work has been very significant. Over the years the committee has chosen several areas of concern to address. In 1983, it recognized a need to assist citizens in war-torn El Salvador. After initially considering offering sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant, the Social Action Committee eventually established a sister church in 1987 with Coloitat 22 4e Abril, a congregation of displaced persons in El Salvador.
  • The congregation has continued its support by sponsoring trips to El Salvador during university spring breaks. The committee has also contributed to entities such as the Evanston Community Committee, the health agency MAP International, and the human rights organization Amnesty International.
Since the University relieved the congregation of financial responsibility for the maintenance of the chapel and the services of the University Chaplain, the congregation could concentrate on spending the donations to support social action initiatives.