On Jan. 11, AU students received an email announcing that chapel attendance would be mandatory for the spring semester. However, three days later, another email was sent out by Dean of Students Chris Luekenga.
The second email read, “Chapel will remain virtual for the foreseeable future, but attendance will not be required.”
Luekenga explained that requiring attendance for a virtual chapel would add another stressor for students.
“While it is a long-standing tradition to require chapel attendance, we also know that requiring an additional virtual meeting is difficult and can add to ‘Zoom fatigue,’” he said.
According to Luekenga, chapel will only be held on Tuesdays this semester. While it won’t be required, Luekenga hopes students will continue to take advantage of the opportunity to worship with the community.
Senior Hadley Duke is in her second year of working as chapel band coordinator. This year, her role has changed significantly.
“My main role is to oversee everything to do with the worship aspect of chapels,” she said. “In a normal year, that would involve in-person auditions, forming bands, scheduling bands each month and guiding bands through the rehearsal and chapel process.”
Last semester, Duke was in need of finding a creative way to continue including worship in chapel despite it being strictly online.
“The hardest part of planning virtual worship is figuring out how to create a worship experience that people still want to engage in from a virtual setting,” Duke said. “I know that it’s awkward to sit in your room or office and sing to your computer, so we have been working to create space for more meditative aspects of worship.”
She explained that this included scripture reading, meditative prayers to participate in together and some music. For the music, Duke managed to create videos ahead of time to show during chapel time.
“It has been difficult to find spaces to record a band of five students while still being able to film a decent video,” said Duke. “Since we aren’t in Reardon with all of the normal sound equipment, it’s sometimes hard to hear every voice and instrument in the video. We want to make sure everyone interested in leading gets an opportunity to, so it has taken some creativity to make that happen.”
Even with these challenges, Duke managed to find a way to create worship videos for chapel each week.
“Last semester, I scheduled bands like in the past and had them go to a large classroom in the Fine Arts building to film each chapel video,” she said. “They were masked and socially distanced, of course, and I was still able to get a decent video. From there, I upload each video to a YouTube channel I created specifically for chapel, and the video is shared at the beginning of each chapel.”
According to Duke, she plans to continue using this style of worship this coming semester.
“The main thing I have been doing to prepare for this semester is scheduling bands, brainstorming worship style and song ideas and working closely with Becca [Palmer] on changing chapel logistics,” Duke said.
Despite the many changes that chapel has undergone, Duke knows how beneficial chapel can be for the student body.
“The positive side to operating chapel worship virtually is just the fact that technology allows us to still make it happen,” she said. “I know lots of students including myself miss the aspect of corporate worship and being together, so I’m grateful for the technology that allows us to still create a space for worship together to happen even if we aren’t physically together.”
Duke said that she is excited to see what new creative ways the community will come together this semester.
“I’m so thankful that I still get to do my job and work with chapel bands to create a worship experience that will allow the student body to grow in their faith,” she said. “I’m also grateful that AU has continued to find ways to grow together spiritually in the midst of the pandemic while still doing their best to keep us safe. I’m very excited to see how God will move on our campus this semester.”
According to Luekenga, the theme for chapel this school year has been “Transformation at the Speed of Life.”
“We are in such rapidly changing times and each of us experience our faith development at different times and in different ways, and this theme seemed to address this,” Luekenga said.
He explained that during chapel this semester, several faculty and staff members will be sharing from their area of expertise concerning life transformation.
Luekenga also mentioned the potential for face-to-face chapels later in the semester.
“Depending on how the COVID situation proceeds, we may be able to offer some in-person Chapel events later in the semester,” said Luekenga.