Boe Chapel adapts to COVID-19 policies to ensure safe worship space

Boe Chapel’s Sunday worship and daily chapel services transitioned to being in-person on Sept. 3 after having gone fully online in March in response to COVID-19. 

St. Olaf College Ministry leaders followed strict guidelines from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship and Sacraments to ensure a safe environment for reopening.

“Our first step was seeing if there is expertise and guidelines out there of ways to return to worship safely that we felt like in using those guidelines we could protect the health and safety of the St. Olaf community,” Associate College Pastor Katherine Fick said.

Some of those guidelines include elements which were already a part of the community mandate, such as requiring masks, staying six feet apart, chapel-specific guidelines that include limiting the amount of singers to four, having all musicians stand nine feet apart and stopping congregational singing and speaking in unison.

“When you take out singing and speaking, we had to rethink everything,” College Pastor Matthew Marohl said.

Ministry leadership adapted former worship elements to accommodate the guidelines by using sign language in worship and offering communion in separate containers to minimize contact.

While necessary, the changes to worship have some additional unforeseen benefits. “Movement and gestures, using hands and body feels like something you are more willing to do now,” Marohl said. “If we are given an opportunity to introduce some kind of movement, let’s not miss that opportunity.”

According to Marohl and Fick worship has changed format but the need for worship is unchanging. Although in-person worship attendance is lower, streaming statistics show that both live streaming and archived streaming is up, Marohl said.

Since going online, Boe Chapel created programs like the 10-week Summer Chapel series focusing on the topic of resilience. Future collaboration between the Student Congregation and Arneshia Williams, visiting assistant professor of dance, will provide opportunities for students to teach others how to incorporate more movement in worship.

Fick pointed out the importance of health at Boe Chapel. “We are just continually evaluating to make sure that what we are doing, we always have students in mind, students’ spiritual lives and health but also their physical, mental, emotional lives and health,” Fick said. The number one priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.”