After a Year on Zoom, SAU Brings Back In-Person Chapel

SAU chapel has moved from online to in-person and live-streamed, starting March 8th. It brings new safety regulations, a sense of community, and positive feelings from those who make chapel the great experience that it is.

Photo of Jasmine Harper

“Man, we’re so excited to spend time with you guys. I feel like we have been dreaming about this day.”

Jasmine Harper – Chapel Band Assistant/Singer

SAU Chaplin, Brian Kono, said the Committee of Corona Virus Planning Team and SAU cabinet (group of vice presidents and president) discussed having in-person chapel. They could have interpreted Michigan’s guidelines regarding gathering worship to allow in person chapel to some degree last fall. They chose to wait till the vaccine was out, numbers declined, and Michigan Health Services set new and broader guidelines for gathering.

They chose March 8th because it was after Spring Break. Kono’s original plan was to not have an in-person chapel throughout the whole semester. They had an alternative plan in case and as things got better, they decided to make the transition half way through J term.

“In regards to the support network we have with the audio, visual, and tech teams, and our chapel band, there were some things that we still needed to get in place in order to make the transition, so while we could have started at the beginning of the semester, it just happened to be the perfect storm in a good way of things coming together for us to make it happen after Spring Break, ” said Kono.

Most of the chapel speakers are willing to deliver their service in person.

“I felt like it went very well,” Kono said, regarding the chapel held on March 8th. “We didn’t fill our compacity of 250, but we certainty had a large gathering of folks who attended and worshipped together and we are encouraged by that.”

One of the chapel band assistants and singer, Jasmine Harper, prefers in-person chapel over online chapel. She said there was something special about connecting with the congregation during live service.

Kono said he prefers in-person chapel and hopes the number in attendance will rise.

A mugshot of Brian Kono.

An in-person chapel allows Kono to:

  • Connect with people because he can see their faces.
  • Respond better to community or world happening.
  • Provide a sense of pastoral care.
  • Be more flexible with live worship.

In-person chapel also allowed Kono to respond better to worship. He said worshipping while being recorded doesn’t “provide the best context for singing a worship song.”

For recording chapel, he did enjoy creating the program and recording before hand on Friday or Saturday. He didn’t have to worry about speakers being on time or not doing something well.

Recording chapel was not easier than In-Person chapel. There were moving pieces to coordinate and speakers had trouble speaking to a camera instead of a live audience. Putting all the pieces together took a long time.

Harper said she was excited to work with  SAU’s video/communication department for the online chapel, but the live-streams made chapel feel like a performance, instead of communal worship. In-person chapel allowed her to receive feedback when worshiping.

“We have a great Almost Chapel production team,” Kono said. “Clayton Saren who’s an adjunct professor but also the head producer of Almost Chapel led a group of students who create the announcement segment of the video. And then, two of the production crew bring all of the pieces together. It is mostly a student team that makes that happen. They work incredible hard and I am grateful for them.”

To attend, students, staff, and faculty have to reserve a spot at signup.com. Kono sends out a link every week. Harper encourages students to sign up for chapel.

From Kono’s advice and his email, students are asked to:

  • Not come to in-person chapel if they are feeling unwell.
  • Not come if they answer ‘yes’ to any of the health screening questions on the SAU app.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Enter through the main door to the building underneath the portico.
  • Avoid congregating at doors and spread out to use doors throughout the foyer area.
  • Sit in the available rows on the main floor of the auditorium and move toward the middle of the pew.
  • Sit at least an arms length from your neighbor.
  • Exit through the closest exit door and avoid cueing.

SAU is following the Arbiter’s guidelines. SAU follows their attendance restrictions and has limited the attendance to 250 people. The Arbiter has agreed to leave their ribbons up, which provide distancing between people.

“I think there is a pretty large segment of population on campus who really enjoy chapel,” said Kono. “Having no place where we can get together, see each other, and worship together all semester through the fall has kept the university from feeling a greater sense of community. On Monday, a number of students mentioned to me how grateful they were to be able to gather in that way because it just felt like they were apart of something bigger than themselves while they were here on campus”

SAU has a chapel because they view it as a key part in creating a community of learners. It is required for students who aren’t commuters because it is a space for everyone to come together to hear a common message. Kono said that we should consider church as our lifelong place of learning.

He said it is a place where we focus on Jesus Christ as our perspective for liberal living and learning. Also, speakers from different disciplines are brought in to challenge us to think about how we can be “critical participants in the contemporary world”.

While Kono couldn’t find the exact date chapel was created, the way chapel is presently has existed since the 1980’s when Kono’s predecessor, Ron Kopeck, was in charge.

Kono hopes chapel is a place to encourage and challenge people. He said that before Covid, chapel was also the one place where you see most of the student body come together. People develop a sense of coming together to do something special at SAU.

Chapel will mostly be on Mondays. There will be some occasions of a Wednesday chapel due classes being canceled on the Easter travel day. There is also an extra all worship chapel on March 31st. SAU intends to have Monday and Wednesday chapel next fall.

By: Sarah Williams