COVID-19 disrupted multiple layers of campus life—dorms and visitors, face-to-face classes, the cafeteria and chapel. Northwestern is unique among other Christian college campuses for its commitment to required chapel attendance.
Last March or April, the Spiritual Formations team rescheduled chapel speakers as campus shut down. This fall, campus policy changes made local speakers both accessible and necessary. Instead of flying in speakers from around the country, the Spiritual Formations team invited speakers like Pastor Pablo Cachon from New Hope Church and Northwestern Professor Dale Lemke to share their thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount.
For the first few weeks of the quad, the team implemented a rotation schedule to accommodate the 250-person seating cap on Knight Hall. Two weeks into quad 1, Justin Jeppesen, the Director of Spiritual Formation Programs, said the team reevaluated. Of the six groups of students who cycled through, some did not attend, and some who did come wanted to attend more often.
Instead of assigning days to groups of students, the team switched chapel structure to first-come-first-served seating. The first Friday after the switch, Justin Jeppesen mentioned double or triple the number of students who attended previous Fridays came to praise chapel. Attendance significantly decreased the next Monday and Wednesday.
Jeppesen said he attended the first open seating praise chapel and noticed something different: “I didn’t see a single phone or laptop screen up, and this is my fourth year, and I’ve never been to a chapel where that hasn’t happened before.”
To accommodate students who are not able to attend in person, chapel is livestreamed and recorded to theROCK. Jeppesen said online viewership is around the thirty to sixty stream mark—less than the first week of the semester, but consistent. For Friday praise chapel, the Spiritual Formations team formed a contingency plan: if the in-person seating threshold is reached in Knight Hall, the choir room and Nazareth Great Room will act as overflow seating.
After this semester, will chapel still be required? Jeppesen said the official Spiritual Formations policy is that “chapel is still expected and required, but we aren’t measuring attendance.” Because of the daily developments in COVID-19 precautions, Jeppesen noted the Spiritual Development team feels it is too soon to say for spring requirements. Chapel attendance is a board-mandated part of Northwestern’s DNA, but because of the pandemic, he said “everything is under review.”
Jeppesen did mention the Spiritual Formations team is working on a new mentoring program that would count for spiritual development credit. Staff and faculty members could apply to be mentors, and students could apply to be mentored. The meetings could count toward chapel requirements for students, similar to SDC credit events like residential hall or commuter life Bible studies. Jeppesen said this option “would be another way a student could be participating and be engaged that would still help them meet their credit requirement.”
For students who would like to access past chapel livestreams or audio recordings of chapel sessions, find the Spiritual Formations tab on theROCK homepage and click the “Chapel/Alternative Chapel” link.