There have been rumors that in-person chapel is returning, and sooner than we may have thought. After a semester of virtual chapel, some may be looking forward to a sense of normalcy returning to their schedule. However, is chapel worth it?
I’ll be the first to admit I did not enjoy virtual chapel, along with the required quizzes. In the summer of 2020, I was disappointed when Harding announced virtual chapel. This used to be my favorite part of the day: seeing friends consistently, worshipping through song and watching peers use their talents of music or speech right there on the Benson stage.
My 10 a.m. class in the fall semester, located in the Rhodes-Reaves Fieldhouse, did not foster an enjoyable experience for virtual chapel due to the WiFi crashes and audio fails. Once the campus moved toward watching chapel videos on our own time, worship felt unreachable. Scheduled alarms to watch a video on my own and take my chapel quiz hardly matched the heartfelt singing chapels I experienced in my time at Harding.
After months of virtual chapel, I noticed students thirsting for authentic connection and interaction with Jesus. I believe chapel should be intended for students to make those connections through peers and other aspects of worship.
One professor this semester is creating a similar type of devotion for his students. Shawn Daggett, in his Gospel of John course, is beginning to offer a devotional 15 minutes before his class begins. It is not required, it is not a grade, but it is an opportunity for peers to come together and praise God.
Do we really need an in-person chapel? Plexiglass barricades and socially distanced seats in classrooms separate us for a reason. In a season of pandemic and unexpected changes, filling auditoriums with students may not be the best option. Spectators at sports are risky enough. Students and faculty on campus need to take responsibility as we protect others through keeping small circles, wearing our masks properly out of respect and hosting small virtual events. I did not enjoy virtual chapel, but in-person is not the answer here. We need more professors and students to initiate these small group opportunities in classes, allowing people to interact with Jesus in a safe and healthy way. We need worship through song, prayer and fellowship, not checking attendance or taking a quiz.
For the safety of faculty, staff and students, I believe Harding should not begin an in-person chapel. Assigned times, locations and required worship is not how one genuinely discovers the Holy Spirit. Virtual chapel keeps us safe, but leaves our souls thirsting for more; in-person chapel holds potential for glorifying worship, but leaves our community at risk. Chapel is complex, especially at a private Christan university, but Jesus is simple. We can keep our community safe through our physical distance and spiritual outreach. Will this be another semester of students sleeping through worship, on their phones ignoring announcements, or will this be the semester we reach out to friends, encouraging relationships with one another and taking ownership of our faith?