Welcome Home: Chapel Through The Pandemic

by Abigail Hintz

Walking into the Jeremiah Chapel after over a year away was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I entered the doors to the familiar dim light, but the hum of the students was life giving. Everyone felt so much joy to be back, myself included.

We watched as a video played reminiscing on how we had made it through the last year by God’s grace, and how after one whole year, we were home.

As we were invited to worship with the band, tears were already in my eyes. They overflowed as we praised our Savior. We sang of His faithfulness, and what better to sing of after all we had seen Him do in the last year.

Dr. White personally welcomed us back to chapel. After shedding a few tears and taking in the sight before him, he jumped back into faithfully preaching the Word as he always does. 

I sat there in awe of the fact that we were truly back. It had seemed so unattainable just weeks earlier. But we were there, and we were beating.

Cedarville University refers to chapel as “the heartbeat of campus.” And just like a true heartbeat, a lot of things have to work well together in order to keep it going. And just like how when parts of the body shut down, the heartbeat must keep pumping to keep it all functioning, so must chapel continue when a global pandemic shuts down campus.

In March of 2020, the heartbeat didn’t stop, but it certainly slowed down.

Cedarville students were faced with a new, frightening reality. Everyone was sent home to finish the semester online with a lot of questions about the future. But chapel was still chapel. For John Wambold, the assistant director for Production Services (PSG) at Cedarville, it was a blessing that the university had already established the chapel live stream several years prior. The crew simply moved locations.

“Doing that from the President’s Library was weird,” he remembered. His crew had to jump through hurdles to make it work from the library, but they did it and the campus community was able to stream chapel every day, same time, just different places.

Little did PSG know that that would be one of their smallest hurdles.

“I remember having a meeting with university president Dr. White around what’s going to happen in the fall,” said Wambold. 

They had no idea.

Dr. White ended up coming with the idea to have chapel outside when students returned. But PSG had to come up with how to make that possible. There were several factors to consider, including unpredictable weather, the amount of power needed, space to social distance, and accessibility for disabled students.

When PSG thought they had found a spot on the south side of campus, vice president of student life and Christian ministries Jon Wood wondered if it would be enough space. He mapped it out on Google Maps, did the math of students and the space everyone would need to stay safe, and discovered PSG would need to find somewhere new. 

It made Wambold and the rest of PSG truly appreciate how involved the administration was in the process.

“We were like ‘How’s Jon getting this information?’ He was like, ‘Google Maps,’” Wambold said.

They went over several other locations. At one point, Wambold and others were standing in the driving range to see if it would work when they noticed the north field. It was the perfect size. 

The Lord worked out the details from there. Senior Ben Richmond, manager of “CU Weather” social media pages, helped PSG monitor the weather closely during chapel. They were able to use HeartSong’s trailers as the teams weren’t traveling. Through all of this, the student body was able to safely enjoy chapel in a new way.

But it couldn’t last forever. Eventually, the weather turned cold and something had to change. The decision was made to move chapel to the Doden Fieldhouse – the following Monday, a very fast turnaround for PSG.

“God was just so kind to us,” Wambold said. “I know there’s bigger things in life than a chapel venue, but just so many people coming together around this idea.”

The initial move to Doden wasn’t ideal, but thankfully Christmas break was right around the corner. 

“So what you saw in Doden at the end of the fall semester compared to coming back was different,” said Wambold. “A lot of work and commitment by the university to financially make that happen. Because we really wanted that for students, just kind of thinking through how do we make this experience a little better?”

Spring semester saw students being able to go to chapel every day once again thanks to the work put in over the break. It was about as normal as it could be despite students having to sit on the floor. 

But on March 15, 2021, nearly a year to the day since Dr. White announced students would be heading home from the chapel stage, students came back in the chapel to worship together for the first time.

For freshmen at Cedarville, this was the first time they were able to get the full chapel experience as current students.

“It was super encouraging,” said freshman Lexi Otto. “I wasn’t even here when everyone got sent home, but it was just so empowering. Just the way that everyone else was super excited about being back. You could feel it and you felt like you were a part of it.”

Wambold was emotional himself. Both as a parent of a current student and after all he and his team had worked through the past year.

“I was surprised how emotional that felt in the back of the chapel,” he said.

HeartSong, Cedarville University’s traveling worship team, has also been impacted by COVID-19 and all the chapel changes over the past year. Anya Burns, a vocalist on HeartSong Blue Team, has seen the entire focus of HeartSong change over the past year. Rather than serving ministries around the country, the teams have stayed on campus year-round and taken the role of leading worship in chapel every day instead of chapel bands doing the same.

“At first it was hard, just because it was a shock,” she said. “And it was just learning a lot. Learning how to love my team and learning how to minister to my peers and not middle school girls.”

Serving the student body in chapel has been an unexpected blessing for the HeartSong teams. Burns says often students will come up to the team after chapel to talk to them about their performance – something they rarely got to experience before.

“I think that we’ve realized how important it is to care for our student body as well as outreach,” Burns said.

The entire chapel experience, from HeartSong to the message to the many heartbeats of believers gathering together, is a super empowering experience. 

“You just left and you’re like, ‘Alright, let’s go out there and let’s take on the world,’” said Otto.

Abigail Hintz is a junior Journalism major and the Sports and Digital Editor for Cedars. She loves reading, playing Spikeball with her friends and watching soccer 24/7.

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