In moments of connection, the technology disappears

January 13, 2021 | Focus On Education | Volume 25 Issue 2
Abby Rudy-Froese | Conrad Grebel University College
Waterloo, Ont.
Suomi MacCarthy, seated, during a chapel service. (Photo by Rebekah DeJong)

On Wednesdays at Conrad Grebel University College, a group of students, faculty, and staff choose to gather in the chapel for a worship service. In light of the pandemic, services have moved online.

“Early in the fall, we offered a hybrid version of chapel, where we could be in person and online at the same time,” says Ed Janzen, Grebel’s chaplain. “It was a lifeline to connect with each other like this.”

The hybrid version allowed a limited number of residents into the chapel in a staggered circle. Completing the circle was a webcam and a monitor with all the faces of associates, apartment dwellers and others from the Grebel community who joined via Zoom.

Sarah Driediger, a first-year student living in Ottawa, says, “It really did feel as if I was part of the community and part of the circle, even on Zoom.”

The service now starts at 7 p.m., opening up the possibility for co-op students like Suomi MacCarthy to participate. “It’s been nice to come to chapel regularly during my co-op term,” MacCarthy says. “Chapel has been a weekly grounding time for me, a time to calm down and get away from work for a little bit.” 

“Rituals aren’t a big part of Mennonite worship,” Janzen says. “The one thing we do have is a relationship with the people we worship with. If we’re going to be a truly worshipping community, we have to be in conversation with each other while we are in worship, and technology enhances this.”

Communication during worship works well using Zoom’s chat feature.

“I love seeing comments from people,” says Catherine Bergs, a member of the chapel committee. “We’re not from a church tradition that calls out ‘Amen’ during the service, but sometimes people type in the chat ‘that was so powerful’ or ‘you did such a good job.’ It makes my heart very full. People can share a thought without being disruptive.” 

Even though technology shapes and enhances the chapel experience, Janzen says, “There’s this immersive experience during chapel where we forget about the technology.”

“When there’s a really powerful message from the speaker or when the music hits close to home, I forget that I am just sitting in my living room at home watching it on a screen,” says Driediger.

MacCarthy adds, “We’re having fellowship in the presence of God and each other. It doesn’t matter that it was over a Zoom call.” 

Suomi MacCarthy, seated, during a chapel service. (Photo by Rebekah DeJong)

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