LDS meetinghouses come in various shapes and sizes. Some have considerably more classrooms than others. Some contain a set aside chapel, whilst others contain a multipurpose space, intended to be used as both a chapel and a recreational or cultural space. In many buildings the chapel space can be expanded backwards into the recreational space commonly known as the cultural hall. An Ensign article discussing design of meetinghouses can be found here. It should be noted that this article is particularly America-centric. In this post I want to examine the role of the chapel in the LDS meetinghouse, and what happens when the chapel has more than one purpose, whether by design, or because of a shortage of appropriate classroom space. In my experience, the British buildings tend to come up short on appropriately-sized classroom space.
Just recently we were visiting a congregation within our stake. The meetinghouse was very small. This was not a large ward, but still the tiny chapel was expanded backwards for the sacrament meeting. We arrived early, and I observed with pleasure from my seat in the chapel, the care of the ward members greeting each other, sometimes enquiring after well-being of another after difficult events during the week. Members appeared to hold each other with love and respect. Sacrament meeting proceeded with reverence. Certainly, I was unaware of any distractions. Due to limited classroom space both Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society classes were held in the chapel. As might be expected there was significant interaction between members during the change-over periods. I enjoyed being able to catch up with a member I hadn’t seen for some time.
My impressions, having been wholly favourable, I was totally taken aback by the announcement by a member of the RS presidency that the ward had a problem with reverence, appropriate respect shown the chapel, and hence Christ. That we should not be engaging in conversation in the chapel before sacrament meeting, and it was up to the sisters to set that example, and so change the behaviour of the ward. I discussed what is or is not appropriate in the chapel before the start of sacrament meeting in my post here, so I don’t intend to dwell too much on that aspect. Imagine my surprise however, when at the conclusion of Relief Society the same RS presidency member took great exception to sisters talking together, stated we were not showing respect and should conduct our business out in the hall. Suffice it to say that the hallway is a narrow, cramped and gloomy space with very limited seating. No-one is going to want to hang around there, getting in the way of other people, for very long, and they didn’t.
I’ve been feeling somewhat irked by this since, and decided to see what official statements I could find about the use of the chapel. I started with Handbook 2, searching throughout for the word ‘chapel’. The chapel is mentioned very few times, and the only time it is described as a holy space is found here:
“1.4.1 Strengthening the Home
“Followers of Christ are invited to “gather,” “stand in holy places,” and “be not moved” (D&C 45:32; 87:8; 101:22; see also 2 Chronicles 35:5; Matthew 24:15). These holy places include temples, homes, and chapels. The presence of the Spirit and the behavior of those within these physical structures are what make them “holy places.”” 
The description here is ambiguous at best. Does chapel refer specifically to the chapel or to the entire meetinghouse for instance? LDS newsroom explains it can be used for both. And there is a gradation of acceptable behaviours from the home through to the temple. I don’t know anyone who advocates we only whisper in our homes, or who proposes rowdy games be played in a chapel (as opposed to other areas of a meetinghouse).
The second mention of chapels in the handbook is found in the section pertaining to music:
“14.9.1 Other Music in the Chapel
“Some cultural and recreational music may be presented in the chapel on weekdays. However, the cultural hall is usually a more appropriate setting for such music. Local priesthood leaders resolve questions about what music is appropriate in the chapel. Applause is not usually appropriate in the chapel.” 
I found this particularly interesting since my daughter and I recently participated in a concert at our stake centre, for members and non-members alike. The audience filled both the chapel and the cultural hall which was opened up for the event. The cultural hall alone would have been too small. There was much enthusiastic clapping, it was a fantastic concert. The chapel wasn’t a chapel, but part of a larger concert hall on that occasion; an eminently sensible decision. I have attended concerts in a local Anglican churches, and performed in concerts in our local cathedral. During a concert there is clapping. Its what we do.
Other references to chapels cover:
- Viewings of the deceased before a funeral. (CHI2 18.6.3)
- Use of audiovisual materials in a chapel, other than during a sacrament meeting. (CHI2 21.1.5)
- Prohibition against photographing General and Area Authorities in a chapel. (CHI2 21.1.6)
- Interpreters for the deaf should be at the front of the chapel (but not on the stand). (CHI2 21.1.26)
- Artwork permitted in a chapel. (CHI2 21.2.1)
- Flowers are the only permitted decorations in a chapel. (CHI2 21.2.2)
- Prohibition against photography, videoing or broadcasting from a chapel (stake conference broadcasts to other parts of the stake excepted). (CHI2 21.2.10)
Finally, the section covering sacrament meeting, doesn’t so much as mention the word chapel. A chapel is not an absolute requirement for a sacrament meeting. I include the section about what is expected before sacrament meeting begins.
“18.2.2 Sacrament Meeting
“Time before Sacrament Meeting
“Leaders set an example of reverence during the time before sacrament meeting. The bishopric and the speakers should be in their seats at least five minutes before the meeting begins. This is not a time for conversation or transmitting messages. Setting an example of reverence encourages the congregation to be spiritually prepared for a worshipful experience.
“The bishopric encourages families to arrive on time and to sit together.” 
That’s nothing there then, that specifies members cannot engage in conversation in a chapel, other than what looks to be a minimum of five minutes of prayerful meditation prior to the start of a sacrament meeting.
I tried to find additional information about the use of the chapel as a room other than a chapel, in the very common in Britain situation, where there is a bona fide chapel, but it is necessary to use the chapel as a classroom. I was only able to find this for facilities management:
“In larger meetinghouses the chapel is a separate room designated for worship services. While members should show respect in all areas of the building, they should be especially reverent in the chapel. In smaller meeting-houses where a room used for multiple purposes is also used as the chapel, local Church leaders should emphasize and teach reverence during worship services.
“Recreational activities are not appropriate in the chapel unless it is a multipurpose area. When a multipurpose room is being used for recreational activities, it is not necessary to designate or isolate one part of the room as being more sacred than another part.” 
It doesn’t answer my question, but can we at least say that when the chapel has a multipurpose function, whether by design or otherwise, when frequently used as a classroom, it is then at that time a classroom and to be treated as such, and to leave the heavy emphasis on reverence for the worship services? This strikes me as being the eminently sensible position to take. After all:
“For Latter-day Saints, the buildings they use for their various worship services and other gatherings are important — but not as important as the building that goes on within their walls. It is the building of strong individuals and families, of knowledge, of relationships and of faith in God that matters most to Mormons.” 
- What is your experience?
- Do you have a set aside chapel or a multipurpose room?
- Is your chapel also used as a classroom, and if so how does your congregation interpret the requirement for reverence in a chapel?