PAA Students Take Spiritual Lead

November 25, 2014 | Liesl Vistaunet

Student leaders at Portland Adventist Academy have taken initiative to begin a new Chapel program for Small Groups.

Early in the school year, as spiritual direction was being discussed by PAA Student Association co-Chaplains, Josh Bibb and Cherith Lorenson, a new idea was born. Bibb and Lorenson developed a vision to give students a more intimate and diverse kind of worship. The Small Group Chapel was planned and presented to staff before school began.

“We wanted to see a more diverse and close-knit spiritual community,” said Lorenson regarding the origins of the vision. “We want to see students mingling and discussing spiritual topics with people outside of their particular grade level or friendship group.”

PAA teachers and staff embraced the idea. “We’re committed to encouraging students to dream about what they want the spiritual atmosphere on campus to be and then to help them create that environment,” said Monte Torkelsen, PAA chaplain.

PAA staff also recognized the Small Group Chapels as an opportunity to emphasize and discuss the school motto: “Christ-Centered, Character-Driven.”

Small Group Chapels have other great benefits. Because these groups will meet five more times this year, the conversations about PAA’s core character-driven development goals (Courage, Leadership, Belief, Integrity, Concern, Curiosity, and Excellence) can be highlighted throughout the year. Having student leaders facilitate the Small Group Chapel further encourages mentorship.

“What’s also exciting about small groups,” says PAA’s School Guidance Counselor and teacher Mechelle Peinado, “is that over time it can pull students together into a closer, safer, and more accepting environment.”
 There were warm and positive reviews of the first Small Group Chapel.

Freshman Emily Cairns said, “I enjoyed our discussion very much and I’m looking forward to the next one and getting to know the people in my group more.”

Torkelsen said, “I had one staff member tell me that they had been surprised and delighted to hear a very quiet international student making excellent contributions to the conversation. That doesn't generally happen in larger groups.”

“Some of the group leaders said they were surprised at who spoke up,” added Lorenson, “and that’s the great part. It’s a chance to hear from people we normally wouldn’t. Making new friends and hearing new perspectives is what we want.”

Although the process of coordinating 257 students into 21 locations, with 21 staff sponsors, and student discussion leaders was complicated, the challenge was worth it and it paid off. Torkelsen says students have a lot to be proud of. “This has been a much larger undertaking than many students would tackle,” he says. “But it was a great start and our students are doing a great job.”

“It was wonderful,” says Peinado. “I liked seeing students from different classes, and ages, and interests come together and share and encourage each other. It’s wonderful.”