“It’s like having a 13-year-old on your back. You feel like you’re not in control.”
For Eric Pratt, best known to Mississippi College students as “The Chapel Man,” every day is a struggle.
After getting sick during a conference in 2005, Pratt was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that is similar to lupus. With this disease, Pratt suffers from arthritis and unpredictable fatigue.
Many students are unaware about the constant battle that Pratt has to face every day.
His father in the Navy growing up, and Pratt grew up moving from submarine base to submarine base. He, his older brother, and his younger sister were always in church. Pratt said that he responded to an altar call when he was nine, but he fully made the decision to follow the Lord when he was in high school.
“Before, Christianity was just a part of who I was. It wasn’t who I was,” Pratt said.
In college, Pratt was a varsity athlete, surrounded by godly people who challenged him to seek what the Lord wanted him to do with his life. He then got involved with youth and intercity ministry and teaching special education, while also working at a church part time.
Pratt now serves as the vice president for Christian development at MC, where he has a hand in campus ministries, conferences, Christian studies classes, and chapel.
Despite his illness, Pratt is a competitive race-walker, but the races often result in his feeling like he has the flu for the next several days.
Through his life, Pratt wants to promote a “deeper commitment to Christ without being prescriptive,” and he loves seeing people get excited about what God wants them to do.
One of the most noted ways that Pratt hopes to promote that deeper commitment is through chapel. However, many students have a negative attitude about the required service in First Baptist Church of Clinton on Tuesdays or Thursdays.
“If I were to choose to create the perfect worship service, I wouldn’t create chapel,” Pratt said.
He said that the purpose of chapel is to provide the opportunity for students to come together and experience the Lord, while also having time to respond to Him.
Pratt said he hopes that ultimately students come with “a sense of expectancy” to experience the Lord’s presence, and not just expecting their own preferences to be met. He said that too high expectations about chapel will lead to “exaggerated disappointments,” and there is “no perfect chapel experience.”
Pratt also does not like “sitcom sermons,” where everything gets wrapped up and fixed at the end of the message.
When it comes to the well-known tradition of holding hands and reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the end of chapel, Pratt said that it creates a common-shared experience. He also referred to Christ’s commandment to “pray like this,” and that when students say the Lord’s Prayer together, they are essentially praying scripture. Pratt also believes that the act ties Christians at MC back to the early Church.
Pratt said there is no one correct way to do chapel. He often has people praise one aspect that others complain about. He said you cannot please everybody, but if something is present for just one person, it is worth it.
“We all like what we like and don’t appreciate what we don’t like,” Pratt said about the various complaints he receives from students regarding the chapel programs.
Student focus groups are used to help make decisions for what will be in chapel, and Pratt and his team are constantly tweaking what will take place in the Tuesday and Thursday services.
Pratt has a positive attitude about the new student chaplain position that was recently added by the student Senate to aid in determining what is included during chapel. Pratt said that he likes the idea of someone consistently being a part of that decision-making process and also helping with campus-wide initiatives.
To Pratt, Mississippi College is a “difficult place to do ministry” because about 20 percent of the population are passionate Christ followers, 60 percent know God, but are complacent in their faith, and around 20 percent have some sort of animosity toward the Christian faith.
Pratt said he believes that is “very easy to be a comfortable, lukewarm Christian” at MC. He encourages students to get outside their comfort zones and be bold for Christ.
“It’s easier to be a light in a dark place than a dimly-lit place,” he said about what it means to make an impact for God.
Pratt works with Residence Life, Student Activities, and other on-campus organizations to encourage students, faculty, and staff at MC to actually live out their faith without forcing them to do so.
He said that the Office of Christian Development has also benefitted from Beth Masters joining their staff. Masters has put more focus on relationships, displaying how the time and effort spent pouring positively into students makes a difference.
Among all the various obligations, classes, and ministries, Pratt’s illness often affects his work. He has had to learn the importance of “working from your rest, not resting from your work.”
Pratt said that the disease has made him deeply consider his priorities, and he has to constantly ask himself, “Do I want Jesus more than my health?”
Pratt added, “Balanced life is a myth.” He said he believes that when God is first, everything else falls into place.
He wants to let all students at MC know that he is available and wants to encourage them. Pratt’s illness may hold him back at times, but he said he trusts in the Lord to enable him to do his work. “I believe, but, God, help my unbelief,” is his constant prayer.
He has been married to his wife Penny for over 21 years and they have three children: Grace, a freshman at MC, Paul, and Chip. They attend First Baptist Church of Clinton, where Pratt is a deacon and Bible study leader.
– Abbie Walker, News Editor