October 24, 2014, BY Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

Rooke Chapel at Bucknell University

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Bucknellians know they have arrived at their campus home when they crest the hill on Route 15 and see the crisp lines of the Rooke Chapel spire emerge above the trees.  

For many members of the Bucknell community, this Georgian colonial-style chapel is more than a building — it is a campus gem where classmates have exchanged wedding vows, where community members have found solace in times of grief, where hundreds have packed the pews and balconies for the annual Christmas Candlelight Service, and where students for several generations have gathered to worship and build community.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the chapel, a gift from Class of 1913 alumnus Robert L. Rooke, who named the building after his parents, Charles M. and Olive S. Rooke. Rooke Chapel has since its dedication on Oct. 25, 1964, been a weekly worship space for Christian students.

"The chapel represents an ideal that Bucknell recognizes the need to educate the whole person, body, mind and spirit," said University Chaplain John Colatch, who leads the weekly Protestant worship services of Rooke Chapel Congregation. Many of those services include musical performances by the Rooke Chapel Choir and the Rooke Chapel Ringers, as well as student and faculty ensembles.

The congregation's offerings support local, national and global causes including the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua, Community Harvest meal program, the University's civil rights spring break trip, Bread for the World, typhoon and hurricane relief efforts, and local families in need. 

"The Rooke Chapel congregation has been an open, welcoming community that feels like a family away from home," said Nate Wagner '17, a mathematics major from Columbia, Md., who regularly attends the Sunday services.

Senior Rebecca Fritch, a psychology and Spanish major, said she made friends across all class years at the chapel through Catholic Campus Ministry services led by Father Bernard Wamayose. "We eat, study, play and worship together," she said. "Friends have come and gone, but I can always count on the people who will be in the second pew from the front in Rooke Chapel at 4 p.m. on Sunday."

The chapel continues to symbolize faith and community long after students have graduated from Bucknell.

"To me, Rooke Chapel is one of the main symbols of Bucknell itself. It's as representative of the University as our seal, the Bison logo or the facade of Bertrand Library," said Kyle T. McGee '04. "When thinking about Bucknell as a physical place, it's hard not to think of the sunsets from the academic quad looking west over Rooke Chapel."

Many alumni have held their wedding ceremonies in the bright and airy sanctuary, inviting friends and family to join them in marking a life milestone at their beloved alma mater.

Dan Heuer '07, M'09, scholarly communications officer and information access manager for Bucknell's Division of Library & Information Technology, married Emily Short Heuer '06 in the chapel in 2010. 

"Emily and I both attended chapel services as students, and she sang in Chapel Choir all four years of her undergrad," said Heuer. "Rooke Chapel was the only place we considered getting married because it has such meaning to us."

Since the chapel's opening in the mid 20th century, the University community has diversified and expanded, as has the campus's religious and spiritual life program, which now supports the many faiths practiced at Bucknell, both within and beyond the chapel walls. Along with three chaplains — Colatch, Catholic Chaplain Bernard Wamayose and Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Serena Fujita — Bucknell's students also practice many of the world's religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and the Bahá'í faith.

Such diversity inspired the theme for this weekend's celebration of the chapel: "Weaving Together the Threads of Our Spiritual Lives — Rooke Chapel & Beyond."

"I hope that Rooke Chapel stands as a symbol of a safe and welcoming place for all students, whether or not they are particularly religious," said Chaplain Colatch. "Our service for the 50th anniversary will be an affirmation of welcome to those folks from other religious and spiritual traditions who attend, and a reciprocal welcome from the students of other traditions who will bring greetings at the service." 

As part of the celebration, on Oct. 21 Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, gave the talk, "Sacred Ground: Why Religion Matters in the 21st Century." The advocate for interfaith dialogue described pivotal historical moments of "interfaith cooperation" that brought about positive change in the world. He also shared tips on the best skills to develop to become an interfaith leader. Among them — becoming a powerful storyteller and identifying a common set of values upon which to act. "Bridges do not fall from the sky or rise from the ground," he told the audience. "People build them."

The Rooke Chapel 50th-anniversary service was held Sunday, Oct. 26, at 11 a.m. The Rooke Chapel Choir, under the direction of Professor Rachel Samet, provided special music. There were words of greeting from students of the Muslim, Bahá'í, Jewish and Hindu traditions, and Robert C. Rooke, son of Robert L. Rooke and grandson of Charles M. and Olive S. Rooke, reflected on the Chapel's 50th Anniversary.