Westmont focuses on community with reintroduction of in-person chapel

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Sofia Pela, The Horizon

Campus Pastor Scott Lisea welcomes students to chapel.

Kylen Christiansen, Staff Writer

On Thursday, Jan. 20, Westmont students received an email with the subject line “Monday, January 24 Chapel is back in-person!” The email entered inboxes at the end of the second week of the semester, which featured online, live-streamed chapel services: a decision made to keep students safe with the spike of the COVID-19 omicron variant. 

While COVID-19 forced chapel into various virtual formats for parts of 2020 and 2021, the availability of vaccines and boosters enabled gathering to resume in Murchison Gym this past fall. This semester, students with COVID-19 are able to live-stream chapel from their own rooms and submit a one-paragraph reflection to serve as their attendance record.

In addition, students who feel uncomfortable meeting in the gym are welcome to meet in the Murchison tent, where a small group meets outside to watch chapel on live-stream. 

Senior Anna Barbour, a member of the chapel scanning team, often finds herself supervising chapel attendance at the tent. She cites that technology difficulties, quality of sound and staying focused and engaged are challenges for those who join virtually. 

New to chapel this semester is Teka Gabaldon, who will fulfill the role of chapel coordinator and assistant to the campus pastor. This position offers the unique opportunity to meet with speakers, connect with students and work closely with the chapel team.

Gabaldon’s hope is that students attending chapel this semester will “be engaged, not just because they have to, but because they want to hear from God.”

Another new addition to chapel is a one-time, juniors-only elective chapel, which will include worship and prayer centered on Ephesians 4. Following tradition, a seniors-only elective chapel dinner will be held later in the semester, focusing on building a rule of life. 

During the fall, Westmont periodically showed videos during chapel as an attempt to increase engagement with artists. These videos elicited mixed responses from students and created wide-spread conversation throughout campus. Lisea says there will be no more videos this coming semester, but the chapel team will continue their efforts to engage with artists. 

Westmont will host a variety of speakers this spring, including author Brian McClaren, Arrabon representative Elena Aronson and author Robert Chao Romero.

In addition, two retiring professors — Coach John Moore and Professor Greg Spencer — will speak. Pastor Scott Lisea will continue his fall series entitled “The Teachings of Jesus: The Way.” In “fractured” times with plenty of “hot issues,” Lisea implored, “we need to recapture Jesus as a teacher who knows how life works best.”

Many students are excited to gather and experience the community chapel provides, while also recognizing the complexity of COVID-19. Junior Will Mundell prefers in-person chapel and recognizes that part of keeping students safe is for students themselves to follow the rules. With regards to COVID-19, he says, “Westmont is doing about as much as they can.”

Junior Kaylie Jerdal appreciates that chapel gives students the unique opportunity to see friends and join in fellowship.“The most powerful part of chapel is seeing everyone come together, and that changes the spirit of chapel,” she said. 

Lisea echoes this sentiment, emphasizing how important it is to “relearn how to be back together and honor the space.” He advises students to soak it up, remembering “it is not an obligation but, instead, a privilege.”

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