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29 October 2006

W&M removes chapel cross to be inclusive; College officials cite chapel's use for many nonreligious events

medium_music_wren.jpg(timesdispatch.com)   Officials at the College of William and Mary

WILLIAMSBURG -- Officials at the College of William and Mary have removed a 2-foot-high gold cross from a campus chapel they say is increasingly used for nonreligious events.

"In order to make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths, the cross has been removed from the altar area," read a recent e-mail to Wren Building employees.

The e-mail came from Melissa Engimann, assistant director for historic campus, according to The Flat Hat college newspaper Web site.

The chapel is in the Sir Christopher Wren Building, which was finished in 1699 and is used for some of the school's biggest ceremonies. Incoming freshmen take the honor pledge in the chapel during orientation, and seniors march through it on their way to commencement.

With so many of the chapel's functions not related to religion, administrators said they felt it was time to make the building more inclusive.

In an e-mail to the college community Friday, William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol said:

"Questions have lately been raised about the use of the Wren Chapel and the cross that is sometimes displayed there.

"Let me be clear. I have not banished the cross from the Wren Chapel. The chapel, as you know, is used for religious ceremonies by members of all faiths. The cross will remain in the chapel and be displayed on the altar at appropriate religious services.

"But the chapel is also used frequently for college events that are secular in nature -- and should be open to students and staff of all beliefs. Whether celebrating our happiest moments, marking our greatest achievements, or finding solace during our most profound sadness, our chapel, like our entire campus, must be welcoming to all.

"I believe a recognition of the full dignity of each member of our diverse community is vital."

Nichol added that he welcomed a broader college discussion on how the chapel could best reflect the school's values.

School officials declined additional comment but said the cross can be returned to the altar if desired by chapel patrons.

William and Mary was founded as an institution of the Anglican Church. In 1906, it became publicly supported by Virginia.


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