Pushed by pandemic, schools are reinventing a core part of campus life to work on the internet.
On a bench in the foreground, LeTourneau University campus pastor Pat Mays welcomes viewers and announces an update on a recent mission trip to Mexico. He shouts and snaps his fingers. There’s a quick cut, some editing magic, and freshman Wil Manchester jumps from the distant background to appear on the bench next to Mays, wearing a fedora and ready to share his experience on the spring break trip.
It could be a TikTok video, but this is LeTourneau’s “chapel” now.
The Texas campus is closed, like most institutions of higher education across the country, and everything has moved online for fear of spreading COVID-19. For Christian colleges and universities, this includes chapel.
The daily or weekly service is often critical to the identity of a Christian college or university—it’s where the whole community comes together in one place and interacts. Chapel services are seen as a key part of students’ spiritual formation, and attendance is often required for credit necessary to graduate. And it’s not uncommon for a discussion—or controversy—that starts with a chapel speaker to define the life of a campus for a semester and sometimes the experience of a whole class of students. Chapel sets Christian higher education apart.
Now the schools are trying to figure out how to translate that core part of their community life onto the internet.
“This feels like a brand-new school year, in a way, where we’re inventing new ways to connect with students and deliver content,” said university pastor Jamie Noling-Auth at George Fox University in Oregon.
Going online in a matter of weeks has been a challenge to a lot of Christian schools, where there hasn’t been …