Charles Ezra Daniel Memorial Chapel
Dedication Marks a Continuing Course
By David Shi
The Greenville News
April 6, 1997
Today Furman officially dedicates the beautiful Charles Ezra Daniel Memorial Chapel. No building on the campus has been more keenly anticipated or so long in coming.
Fifty years ago, in March of 1947, Furman's President John Plyler told the Board of Trustees that "it seems almost unthinkable that we have gone almost 121 years without a building resembling a church on… campus."
Yet the unthinkable was true. At the original Furman campus in downtown Greenville, chapel services were conducted in Judson Alumni Hall. At Greenville Woman's College, students attended chapel in the auditorium in the Ramsay Fine Arts Building.
President Plyler ensured that a chapel appeared in the original plan developed in the early 1950s for the new Furman campus, but a lack of funds kept such a building only a dream until Homozel Mickel Daniel's magnificent bequest in 1992.
Almost 30 years earlier, "Mickie" Daniel had confided to President Gordon Blackwell that she was leaving money in her will for Furman to build a chapel in honor of her husband.
The wait may well have been providential. Never has there been a more appropriate time, never has there been a greater need for a clearly identified place of worship, a serene and sacred space at the very crossroads of the campus.
In the aftermath of Furman's traumatic separation from the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1992, some observers predicted that Furman would quickly abandon its Christian heritage and embrace the arid secularism prevalent at many liberal arts colleges of national stature.
They were wrong. Religious conviction, activity and debate at Furman are flourishing as never before, and the university remains steadfast in its commitment to bring the human in contact with the divine.
Now 171 years old, Furman continues to be an ecumenical fellowship of learners. As the former Furman chaplain and Greenville News columnist L.D. Johnson noted in 1974, Furman's mission is "not only the transmission of knowledge, values and faith, but also the continual examination and correction of these in light of continuing discovery and integration of truth."
A new chapel will bolster such a mission. Chapels help us encounter God's grace. We enter them with open minds and receptive hearts, for they offer a place of refuge from the chaos and corruptions of the world, a place to sit and listen for the voice of God, a place to interrogate the soul and learn from its cries and whispers.
To be sure, we pilgrims cannot grasp the sacred; it is impalpable. We can only sense its presence and feel its uplifting power. In this regard the Daniel Chapel provides an insistent witness to our need for a more transcendent appreciation of what really matters. We live in an age gorged on the trivial yet hungry for meaning.
By reminding us of God's presence in our lives, the new chapel will raise our aspirations. Indeed, that is why chapels are usually vertical in form. Like an exclamation mark, their tall steeples and steep roofs punctuate our intentions and disrupt our complacency. In the process a chapel offers comfort and assurance, challenge and judgment, hope and benediction.
The Daniel Chapel's holy aura reminds us that we did not create ourselves and that the search for truth and meaning is best pursued in a spirit of communion and humility.
In its purest sense religion is not an escape from reality but an effort better to understand reality and all that surrounds it. Faith does not provide simple answers to the unknowable or unendurable; it is what we do and who we are in the face of the unknowable and the unendurable.
To those who helped build the chapel, including those who gave countless hours as volunteers, and to Mrs. Daniel who funded it and Charlie Daniel who inspired it, we owe a great debt for creating a place of simple elegance that is easy to find and hard to leave.