Jake Krogh cannot stop grinning. “Every time we start talking about it, I can’t wipe the smile off my face,” he said. “I can’t believe it worked!”
Krogh is one of a group of sophomores who used last week’s town hall chapel service as a chance to reenact the Mark 2:1-17 story of the paralyzed man lowered through a roof to see Jesus, marking the first real chapel prank of the year.
As you hopefully saw, Caleb Krumsieg read the scripture passage as the “context” for a question while Parker Samelson, dressed in a toga, descended on a rope from the catwalk in the ceiling of Edman Chapel. Jacob Fernandes and Krogh were working the belay system in the catwalk. Hudson Thomas, dressed as Jesus, helped catch Samelson and raised him to his feet a healed man. The Record sat down with Krogh, Samelson and Thomas to hear how they engineered the miracle.
At a brunch about four weeks ago, Krogh told his buddies that he had been thinking about lowering someone through the hole between Anderson Commons and Lower Beamer as a prank that would reference Mark 2.
The others were intrigued, and the idea grew wings.
Krumsieg worked on chapel crew last semester and was still employed by the academic and institutional technology department.
His work keys, by some fluke, gave him access to the “hole in the roof” that they needed. And as Krogh began to look into Wheaton’s history of chapel pranks, he realized, “This could be the best chapel prank ever.”
All the participants, Krogh said, felt that students at Wheaton “needed a chance not to take themselves so seriously, given what town hall chapel was known for last year.”
Of course, Krogh was referencing the nationally-noticed town hall chapel incident when an apple was thrown by one student at another after the latter student asked a question concerning LGBT students.
“We wanted this year’s town hall chapel to live in infamy as something joyful,” Krogh said.
In the following weeks, the crew set the scene.
After a run to Goodwill and a YouTube search for “how to make a Jesus costume,” the heist was primed for execution. Each took on a specific role for the prank. Samelson, a self-described thrill-seeker, was given the role of the paralytic.
They needed to practice, they wisely decided. They reasoned that Edman Chapel would be completely deserted on President’s Day at 2:30 a.m.
“We were dead silent and the whole chapel was pitch dark,” Samelson recounted.
They crept onto the catwalk and first practiced lowering a 20-pound backpack to see if the rope would be long enough.
Thump — the backpack hit the ground at the end of its descent, cutting the silence.
Now for human testing.
Samelson was lowered into the darkness harnessed to the rope, wearing all black and a head lamp.
“It felt like spelunking into a cave,” he said.
The scariest part, according to Samelson, was not the free-fall itself but the first drop. He had to crawl through a small camera-hole in the cat-walk, and then jump out, trusting the rope to catch him.
All the guys knew that there was some real danger involved, especially since they had tested the system with only a 20-pound backpack. The prayer beforehand, Krogh said, went something like: “Lord, please help this go well — and please help Parker stay alive.”
They tried to be as safe as possible. Samelson was harnessed into an elaborate pulley-belay system, with two people securing Samelson from above.
Once Samelson reached Thomas safely on the ground the first time, the group collectively let our their bated breath — and then repeated the stunt four or five times, timing it with Krumsieg’s reading. By the time they left Edman, it was 4 a.m.
On the morning of town hall chapel, Krogh, Fernandes and Samelson made their way up to the catwalk at 9:15. Then they waited.
Samelson said that it was the longest hour of his life.
“If anyone had walked or looked up there at all,” Krogh added. “We all would have been caught.”
When they heard Krumsieg’s voice in the microphone, the crew in the cat-walk knew they had cleared the last hurdle — and there was no turning back. Samelson jumped out, and they started belaying.
Samelson described being lowered as nothing but “a blur.” The main thing he was worried about was avoiding one of the hanging microphone cords; Fernandes was signaling furiously from the catwalk for him to avoid them.
“I had never had that many people looking at me at one time,” Samelson said.
Going in, the team was most worried about President Philip Ryken’s reaction. They hoped that he wouldn’t find the prank disrespectful — or worse, heretical — but it was a possibility.
So it was a welcome surprise to them when, immediately after the prank, Ryken said into the microphone that he had always believed that “pranks should be done to the glory of God. And I think this was.”
The guys were all impressed with how well the Wheaton administration responded to the prank; most members of the administration found the prank amusing. The sophomores were actually taking a picture with Ryken and Chaplain Timothy Blackmon when Public Safety officers came in to get their names. Each prankster was assigned five hours of community service at the college for trespassing on the restricted cat-walk.
They said that they saw their penalty as fair — and it would serve as an opportunity to further the spirit of the prank which was, as they asserted, executed out of love for Wheaton.
Thomas noted that the format of town hall chapel was critical. They were all aware that chapel pranks could be disrespectful towards a guest speaker in most chapels — town hall chapel, Thomas pointed out, is purposefully centered on student input. In this context, they reasoned, the prank could be considered a form of input. Samelson added that they intentionally performed the prank early on in chapel, hoping both to give everyone a chance to “take a deep breath,” and to avoid taking anything away from the more serious questions that would follow.
In the past week, alumni from around the world have been sharing the video of the prank on social media. As the views on YouTube grew close to 10,000, the crew realized that this could be where they “peak” at Wheaton. Right now, they couldn’t be happier about that.