Chip Pollard hosted the first online chapel service live-streamed on YouTube and Zoom, due to coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings.
Following the closing of the John Brown University campus in March, the administration sought to use technology to create connections, while also adhering to protocols issued by the CDC. On Tues., April 21, Chip Pollard, university president, highlighted student and staff achievements, talked about the coming semester and answered questions that the students had asked virtually. The chapel focused on uplifting the students and staff, as many of the topics and questions that were chosen were of a light-hearted nature.
While JBU has streamed videos of its chapel speakers for students and faculty and had recently started a chapel podcast, this was the first time doing a fully virtual chapel with no students physically present. Over 100 people streamed the YouTube live-stream, with many watching through Zoom as well. Students who watched the chapel said the virtual atmosphere was strange for them, but there were comforting factors of familiarity, namely, the professors who led the service.
One student, junior engineering major Daniel Norwood, said that while many aspects, such as the virtual environment and the themes were different, the worship felt familiar to him. The service began with worship as Jen Edwards, assistant professor of worship arts, leading the singing. Pollard later commented on how encouraged he was to see students singing along over Zoom, as he had been missing congregational singing as a way to connect to God.
Pollard then spent some time highlighting recent positive happenings in the JBU community, one being multiple students who are working on the front lines in various capacities during the global pandemic.
After highlighting these students and the achievements of JBU faculty and staff throughout the year, Pollard discussed a little about the future of the school. He assured staff and students that JBU will continue studies in the fall of 2020, even if the semester will look a little different than normal. While he acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, he kept the overall message positive, desiring to bring hope to people wherever they were watching and allow members of the JBU community to feel more connected.
There were times, too, when Pollard recognized the extreme difficulty and sadness that JBU students and staff, and the world as a whole, were experiencing during this time. “The Psalms are a rich resource for Christians during times of challenge because they express both the emotional turmoil of the challenge and the hope and faith that we experience because of God’s promises to be with us in those struggles,” Pollard said. Pollard read Psalms 11:3-4 and commented on how we are able to question God during times of difficulty and participate in biblical lament.
Kyra Ruch, senior family and human services major, agreed with Pollard. “It was important for him to address this because people in Christian circles often feel like they can’t question God. However, if you don’t bring up what you are truly thinking with God, that hinders the relationship from being as real and genuine as it could be,” Ruch said. “The Lord gives us space for questions and hard emotions. He wants us to come to Him with all of ourselves, no matter how messy we are.”
Toward the end of the service, Pollard addressed the questions that were sent in electronically by students. Many of the topics chosen were focused on more lighthearted matters of quarantine and how to stay encouraged. Other questions focused on Pollard’s experiences, asking how he was during this time and the books he had been reading. There was even a mention of the popular Netflix show, The Tiger King.
Norwood commented on this change from previous questions and answer style chapels, saying, “Normally the Q and A chapel is where students express thoughts with Administration, trying to get answers to tough questions, often politically loaded questions. This Q and A chapel was light, practical questions, combined with questions that just helped students feel connected.”
Pollard concluded the service by sharing what his hope was for the students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “My greatest hope for you in this season is my greatest hope for you in any season, that you would deepen your following of Jesus Christ…that you would become the hands and feet of Christ for others…that may be your family, as you start to get tired of being around the same six people, that may be on the front lines to help others in need and in a strange way it is actually not going out and being with others right now,” Pollard said. He also challenged his audience to stay hopeful and find ways to support those around them in order to feel more connected and loved during this challenging time as a student body and as a world.