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Online Chapels: finding faith and community in a time of social-distancing

Written by Rebecca Schwind, edited by Addison Freiheit, Photos by Julianne Foster, Designs by Phoebe Han

Biola student Hannah Fodera is a chapel scanner. At least, she was until late last semester when students got sent home following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After landing back home in various places around the globe, students have had to cope with all sorts of transitions. For Biolans, one of those transitions was going from in-person to online chapels. While this can be considered less-than-ideal, the transition also provides students with a chance to focus on their relationships with God.

Fodera, a sophomore Christian ministries major, loved greeting people and welcoming them to chapels.

“I’m really passionate about making people feel welcome, so that was always really fun,” Fodera said.

However, since her job as an entrance scanner required her to be outside the building rather than inside where she could hear the message, she had to be “more intentional with going to different chapels.”

Photo by Julianne Foster

REMOTE FAITH

This need for adjustment and intentionality has created an opportunity to see how God can meet his children where they are, no matter how worship is conducted. Fodera is one of many students learning to adjust to the technical and relational changes of chapel.

“Sometimes your chapel doesn’t get reported… maybe you get locked out, or you didn’t watch it the correct way, and that’s definitely a bummer,” Fodera said.

Additionally, the same online aspect of chapels that makes it easy to attend whenever and wherever you are, also makes it difficult to stay accountable.

“Because everything’s on the computer, there’s a big temptation for [chapels] to feel like an assignment, because it’s not a place you go to,” Fodera continued.

It seems there is no separation between chapels and school this semester, and as a result, chapels lack the community aspect and power of corporate worship. Fodera still misses being able to worship with her peers.

“[While Biola] suggests you go to church on Sundays, there’s something so special about having the entire Biola community packed into a [chapel service], worshiping together. It’s an amazing opportunity to be poured into in that way,” she said.

Designed by Phoebe Han

Sophomore journalism major Grace Morales said that while it can be easy to zone out during in-person chapels, the Q&A aspect of online chapels keeps her engaged and paying attention. She finds it a bit difficult to answer the questions about personal experiences, but because of those questions, she is “learning more from chapels.”

Although Fodera follows Spiritual Development’s advice and picks one day during the week to watch chapels, she still wants to establish a more intentional rhythm.

“I’m excited for the weeks to come to be more disciplined in finding a time to do it and maybe incorporate it into my mornings, so [that] it’s a way for me to commune with God more.”

Students have found online chapels to be an opportunity to find peace in the midst of this busy season.

“The fact that we have to do them makes us refocus our lives back on Christ in the middle of our week, which I really appreciate,” Fodera said. “It’s a great opportunity to become a spiritual practice instead of something that we have to do.”

ROMANS 12: UNITY IN CHRIST

Despite the online setting, Fodera and Morales value the community that is being built through chapel this semester. Students and faculty have come together to honor and set aside time for Mental Health Awareness Week and Hispanic Heritage Month. Fodera said that students were posting on the new Biola app about good chapels they watched and encouraging their peers to watch them as well.

“Biola has been working so hard [this semester],” Morales said. “God has used the professors and speakers to bring these chapels alive. As Christians, we like to be in community and we like to worship as a whole, and since we can’t really have that right now, they’re trying as hard as they can to give that to us.”

Photo by Julianne Foster

At home, chapels have provided students with opportunities to bond with those in their immediate communities, such as family, friends and those they are living with.

“I like that I get to listen to chapel with my family,” Morales said. “[Usually] the only time they get to enjoy it with me at Biola is when they come for family weekend. But now I can share it with them throughout the entire semester.”

Several words can be used to describe students’ experiences: “Transition.” “Online.” “Alone.” “Together.” But the most important element to focus on in this constantly-changing world is the ever-present, ever-constant God. May we use this time to continue to grow closer to him, and to each other through him—no matter what format chapels are presented in.

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