Fuller Magazine: Issue 22

Benediction: The Camera is the Congregation

singing at chapel banner

Not long after California issued its Safer at Home order in response to the coronavirus, Fuller offered its first fully online chapel via Zoom. Like most Zoom events at the beginning of the pandemic, the service was simple, unvarnished, and soaked in a tender vulnerability. Student and chapel assistant Joel Yoshonis led worship on acoustic guitar from his bedroom, while Director of Chapel and Community Worship Julie Tai humbly asked for grace as they figured out how to pivot the weekly in-person service to Zoom.

Over many weeks, though, the team did figure out how to curate a meaningful chapel service within the many limitations COVID had created. A natural starting place was with the elements of the old, in-person chapel that easily translated to Zoom. For instance, each service began with lighting a candle, something most viewers could do at home, and blowing the candle out together provided a closing ritual. Other parts of chapel, like musical worship, had to be rethought altogether.

“We had to think very critically about what was on the screen,” says Julie. “We had to cut the video so that it looked invitational and active.” Helping to produce that video was Joel, who jokes, “When I think of chapel in the pandemic, I think of sitting at my desk looking at two computer screens for 25 hours a day.” Creating an inviting worship experience for online viewers was new to chapel assistant January Lim, who was accustomed to leading worship from a stage relatively far from the audience. She used a mantra to help her adapt: “the camera is the congregation.” She realized that, through video, the worshipers are much closer to the musicians. “There’s a sense of reverence there,” says January, “a sense of holy intimacy that actually didn’t exist before.”

Twenty months after that first stripped down Zoom service for a community sheltering in place, Fuller welcomed students, staff, and faculty back on campus. But the chapel team couldn’t return to simply streaming in-person services. Like many things, chapel as it was once known ceased to exist during the pandemic and something completely new had taken its place. The return to campus demanded yet another transformation, a reimagining of online chapel for the demands of a hybrid “new normal.” Before COVID, Julie notes, the online chapel participants didn’t necessarily feel like the service was designed for them. But going completely online for more than a year “leveled the playing field.” Now, she says, the goal is to “create services that feel equitable to both bodies of people, in-person and online.”

Each Wednesday of the past Fall Quarter, anywhere from 20 to 40 Fuller community members gathered in Payton 101 to share the chapel experience together, while many more watched online. “We switch between different modalities across every service to have moments that specifically feel like they’re for each audience—and moments that merge both of those worlds.” Worship can come livestreamed from the Catalyst building or in a prerecorded video. The sermon, prayers, and Scripture reading are a combination of Zoom and from the podium. While the in-person participants have the pleasure of hearing their voices blend in worship inside the wood-paneled walls of Payton, online viewers use the Zoom chat to ask for prayer and chime in their “Amens.”

Joy Thompson

Joy Netanya Thompson (MAT ’12), Fuller’s editorial director and senior writer.

Not long after California issued its Safer at Home order in response to the coronavirus, Fuller offered its first fully online chapel via Zoom. Like most Zoom events at the beginning of the pandemic, the service was simple, unvarnished, and soaked in a tender vulnerability. Student and chapel assistant Joel Yoshonis led worship on acoustic guitar from his bedroom, while Director of Chapel and Community Worship Julie Tai humbly asked for grace as they figured out how to pivot the weekly in-person service to Zoom.

Over many weeks, though, the team did figure out how to curate a meaningful chapel service within the many limitations COVID had created. A natural starting place was with the elements of the old, in-person chapel that easily translated to Zoom. For instance, each service began with lighting a candle, something most viewers could do at home, and blowing the candle out together provided a closing ritual. Other parts of chapel, like musical worship, had to be rethought altogether.

“We had to think very critically about what was on the screen,” says Julie. “We had to cut the video so that it looked invitational and active.” Helping to produce that video was Joel, who jokes, “When I think of chapel in the pandemic, I think of sitting at my desk looking at two computer screens for 25 hours a day.” Creating an inviting worship experience for online viewers was new to chapel assistant January Lim, who was accustomed to leading worship from a stage relatively far from the audience. She used a mantra to help her adapt: “the camera is the congregation.” She realized that, through video, the worshipers are much closer to the musicians. “There’s a sense of reverence there,” says January, “a sense of holy intimacy that actually didn’t exist before.”

Twenty months after that first stripped down Zoom service for a community sheltering in place, Fuller welcomed students, staff, and faculty back on campus. But the chapel team couldn’t return to simply streaming in-person services. Like many things, chapel as it was once known ceased to exist during the pandemic and something completely new had taken its place. The return to campus demanded yet another transformation, a reimagining of online chapel for the demands of a hybrid “new normal.” Before COVID, Julie notes, the online chapel participants didn’t necessarily feel like the service was designed for them. But going completely online for more than a year “leveled the playing field.” Now, she says, the goal is to “create services that feel equitable to both bodies of people, in-person and online.”

Each Wednesday of the past Fall Quarter, anywhere from 20 to 40 Fuller community members gathered in Payton 101 to share the chapel experience together, while many more watched online. “We switch between different modalities across every service to have moments that specifically feel like they’re for each audience—and moments that merge both of those worlds.” Worship can come livestreamed from the Catalyst building or in a prerecorded video. The sermon, prayers, and Scripture reading are a combination of Zoom and from the podium. While the in-person participants have the pleasure of hearing their voices blend in worship inside the wood-paneled walls of Payton, online viewers use the Zoom chat to ask for prayer and chime in their “Amens.”

Written By

Joy Netanya Thompson (MAT ’12), Fuller’s editorial director and senior writer.

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