- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Christians, not Muslims, originally sought renovations at a Wichita State University chapel that came under criticism, according to the university’s former campus minister.

The university received criticism recently for the chapel renovations, which included replacing pews with folding chairs. Some said they felt the changes marginalized Christians while accommodating Muslims.

The Rev. Christopher Eshelman, a United Methodist minister who served as campus minister at Wichita State in 2011 and 2012, told The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1Zz2HY2) that several people - including him - had the idea to make the chapel a more flexible worship space.

As the proposal moved through the university’s approval process, Muslim students voiced support for the plan because they had difficulty finding places to kneel and pray on campus. There are about 1,000 Muslims among Wichita State’s 14,450 students.

The family that made the chapel possible in 1964 specified that it remain open to all creeds and races. But dozens of Wichita residents learned about the renovation after Wichita State alumna Ann Cusick posted the changes to her Facebook page in early October and criticized taking out the pews. She included a photo from inside the chapel, showing the absence of pews.

“The Muslims are ecstatic” about the renovation, she wrote in the post. “Sumpin’ NOT right here.”

After that, university donors, alumni and others began posting comments and contacting university administrators.

Wichita State President John Bardo responded later by appointing Eric Sexton, vice president for student affairs, to study whether to come up with a plan to hear ideas and concerns.

Eshelman said, however, that Muslim students didn’t make any demands on how the space would be changed.

“I want to emphasize: Never in my conversations or experience did I have a Muslim insist on anything for that space,” said Eshelman, now associate pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church, who is chairman of the ecumenical board that oversees the campus ministry. “There were no demands.”

Other participants in the move to change the chapel also said it was done to make a more flexible worship space, primarily for Christians.

“The major push was from Christians,” said Chandler Williams, a Wichita State graduate student who attends Central Christian Church. “The Muslims were not as involved in the discussions as the Christians.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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