Chaplain’s Office Pivots to Virtual Chapel

By Helen Huiskes COVID-19 precautions have transformed every facet of life on campus, including corporate worship and instruction.

Ashley Bowman watches online chapel in her room in Fischer Hall (The Wheaton Record/Katie Wilcox)

After ringing in the new academic year with an outdoor All-School Communion, the Chaplain’s Office has continued to adapt spiritual engagement to COVID-safe alternatives which now include voluntary virtual chapel attendance. The Chaplain’s Office has also assigned students at random to “Life Together Groups,” small gatherings centered on praying through the Psalms. These groups meet on Mondays, while chapel is live streamed on Wednesdays and Fridays. 


“It’s definitely something new for all of us, so it’ll be a learning curve, but I’m excited to see where it goes,” said sophomore French major Abby Doci.


This year’s chapel services are dedicated to storytelling. “We chose the idea of the power of story to heal and unite — how God uses stories and the way He works in people’s lives,” said Interim Chaplain Greg Waybright ‘78.


The live-streamed Wednesday chapels focus on stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, while the Friday chapels give students, faculty, and staff a platform to share personal testimonies. As for the Life Together Groups, Waybright said the goal was to create an informal gathering as an opportunity “to get to know a few stories of people that we wouldn’t naturally connect with.” 


“I miss seeing every single student in Edman and having new speakers come in, and singing together,” said senior music major Caleb Ballard, who works on the camera crew for chapel. “It was all really special, and I don’t think I realized how much I enjoyed that until we didn’t have it anymore.” 


The priority placed on chapel and spiritual life was a key factor in some students’ decision to enroll. 
“The feeling of community with the whole student body gathering together in worship was definitely a moving experience for me when I visited,” said freshman Caroline Capuano. “Even though we’re not having that in person, I know that the creativity that we see from the Chaplain’s Office and the creativity in leadership will help us to preserve the feeling of community and togetherness in this difficult time.”


From left to right: Avery McKeany, Katie Tagye, Coltrane Curry, Madison Forberg watch online chapel in the Fischer Basement (The Wheaton Record/Katie Wilcox)

Historically, chapel attendance has been taken based on a seating chart in Edman Chapel, but no equivalent has been instituted to mandate online engagement with the chapel live streams. Prior to COVID-19, a student’s empty seat after the worship set would be counted by student chapel monitors in the balcony and marked as a “chapel skip.’ Students were permitted 11 absences per semester before being placed on chapel warning. This semester, the school has left the typical “chapel time,” 10:40 a.m. to 11:20 a.m., free from classes and meetings with the expectation that students will watch chapel services online.


“I think people are mostly just watching when they know one of their friends is going to talk in chapel,” said Ballard. “It’s very difficult to be motivated to set time aside to basically just watch a YouTube video.” In the past, prominent Christian figures including Tim Keller, Beth Moore, and Charlie Dates have presented chapel talks, but this year’s current line up doesn’t include any guest speakers.  


However, Waybright said he is optimistic about student engagement, even with non-mandatory chapel alternatives. Waybright said the Chaplain’s Office is working alongside the Office of Student Engagement to put on more events like the first outdoor All-School Communion, which took place on McCully Field on Aug. 25. Students worshiped, prayed, and took communion together, all while adhering to COVID-safe restrictions with staggered arrival times, distanced seating, and individual communion packets.

“I pray that what we do will prove to be relevant and nurturing by addressing real issues and needs,” Waybright said.

Helen Huiskes

Helen Huiskes

Helen Huiskes is a senior English Writing major with a minor in International Relations. A native of Portland, Ore., she enjoys learning languages, pasta and over-analyzing TV shows.

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