Nichol: Chapel must define us all

President Gene R. Nichol earlier this month discussed with the Board of Visitors his decision to reserve display of an altar cross in the Wren Chapel for appropriate religious gatherings. The display of the cross at other times, Nichol told board members on Nov. 16, sends an “unmistakable message” that there are “insiders and outsiders” at William and Mary, “those for whom our most revered place is meant to be keenly welcoming and those for whom presence is only tolerated.” Nichol explained that because the Wren Chapel becomes part of the William and Mary experience for every student who enrolls, it is “essential it belong to everyone.” (See Nichol’s remarks to the board.) Nichol acknowledged the profound feelings many students, faculty, staff and alumni have expressed both in support of and in opposition to the decision. “The emotions and values touched by this dispute are deeply felt,” Nichol told members of the board, “but difficult issues are the grist of great universities.”

In weeks past the cross’s display has been discussed by faculty and student groups. The Student Assembly considered and defeated by a 14-2 margin a resolution requesting the decision be reversed. In addition, a group of students and alumni have created a “Save the Wren Cross” Web site (www.savethewrencross.org). Prior to the board meeting, participants in that effort presented board members with an on-line petition seeking to rescind the president’s order.

The decision also was featured on local editorial pages in early November, with The Virginian-Pilot opining that while “Nichol’s intentions are noble . . . [the decision] obscure[s] what is otherwise obvious—Wren Chapel is a Christian chapel and the religious heritage of the university.” An editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, meanwhile, suggested that “The move makes practical sense and reflects the facts on the ground. The cross can be returned to its spot when appropriate.”