With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country, John Brown University has made adjustments to many activities across campus to comply with Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health regulations – with a notable change being the introduction of chapel groups.
In previous years, students would gather at the Cathedral of the Ozarks every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Typically, service began with worship, transitioning into a sermon from faculty or guest speaker then end with worship music. Many students saw this as a time of learning, growing and campus-wide fellowship during the week. More importantly, each student was eager to hear their favorite closing phrase: Go in Peace, JBU.
Unfortunately, chapel needs to look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since JBU follows the CDC and Arkansas Department of Health’s guidelines, there is a severe limitation to campus-wide gathering, sitting together and worshipping beside one another.
When JBU reopened this semester, chapel groups were introduced to replace the old traditional chapel service. Students signed up with a specific staff or faculty member while meeting in various locations around campus alongside twenty other peers. Students are always strategically spaced six feet apart and wear masks while the pre-recorded sermon for that week is displayed on a screen.
While this is the best solution for chapel service during a pandemic, students seem to have mixed reviews of the new group model.
Kirstyn Burwick, a freshman worship arts major, said, “Even though the circumstances for the creation of chapel groups are difficult, I love the heart and the mission behind the chapel groups. I love the messages and group discussions, the leaders, and the close community that is being built.”
Eli Arnold, a junior electrical engineering major, stated, “I really love chapel groups, and I feel like it is a phenomenal way to continue a passion of JBU: spiritual development in a college context.”
On the other hand, a survey conducted by the writer revealed many students said the gathering feels like another classroom setting instead of the intended sacred place with the Lord. Fifty % of participants stated they were somewhat satisfied with their groups, Fourty-five% said neither satisfied or dissatisfied, and 5% reported somewhat dissatisfied. Furthermore, 75% of respondents said the biggest challenge for them in chapel groups is the lack of worship opportunities.
A common trend in the survey answers was that a social distanced setting makes it extremely difficult for deep connections and meaningful conversation among peers. The disconnection of meeting new people ushers a new level of social difficulty, especially for first-year students at JBU.
Nic Hopp, a freshman electrical engineering major, said, “Chapel groups feel like small groups. Only, it’s unusually a small group with most of the familiarity and coziness taken out. It’s hard to have meaningful conversations with people I do not know. I do not have any classes with them. I do not know half of their names. I do not see them any time other than chapel. These are not my friends. And while there is a beauty to worshipping with strangers, and making new friends, I miss worshipping beside my friends.”
The formation of chapel groups seems to have a mixed review across campus; however, students look forward to the day that normal chapel reconvenes and worships as one body of Christ once again.
Photo: Katelyn Kingcade, The Threefold Advocate