Praising in pandemic: how worship apprentices are leading virtual chapel


Alex Raycro

According to Pastor Paul Ryan, the core of the worship apprentice role remains the same, even though so many other parts of the job may seem different.

Like many campus leaders, this year’s worship apprentices have faced an unprecedented challenge: engaging Calvin students in worship through a tiny screen.

Each year, the worship team selects six new apprentices to plan and lead chapel services and LOFT, the Sunday evening service on campus. The 2020-21 apprentices were selected last March, when news of the pandemic first began to reshape campus life. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the new WAs told Chimes they were excited to meet the challenge. 

Sam Fynewever, Nikita Hutanto, Talisha McCullough, Hadassa Ribiero, Jonas Tilburt, and Anne Vogelzang come from a variety of majors and backgrounds but share the same heart for leading campus in prayer and song. “We strive to plan and lead worship that is trinitarian, participative, culturally expansive, Spirit-directed, and covenantal” said Fynewever. “Our guiding ideas about how to lead our multicultural, global Christian community are the same as always, pandemic or not.”

The core of the worship apprentice role has not changed, Pastor Paul Ryan, worship apprentice mentor, said: “We still meet together weekly for prayer, planning, and learning.”

The virtual format of chapel has led to an obviously different leadership experience; namely, that there is no in-person congregation. McCullough said, “I did not realize how important hearing from others as we sing was or how important the feedback from a congregation was. We all want to be impacting people in tangible ways and virtually this has felt nearly impossible. Nevertheless, the Lord is still using virtual chapel to glorify himself.” 

The cancelation of LOFT services this semester has also changed the apprentice role. “We long for the day when we can gather again to worship as a campus, but in the meantime, I’m trying not to focus on what’s been taken away, but what we’ve been given back. That we’re here at all is a gift,” said Tilburt.

On-campus viewing rooms offer a chance to join chapel from across campus, but many students who could not return to campus this semester also have the opportunity to worship from their homes. The same technology allows Ribiero, who is residing at her home in Spain this semester, to lead worship from abroad. “I myself have felt so blessed by chapel services; it’s that moment of the day when I feel like we’re all together in one place,” said Ribiero.  

Ryan is grateful for the team’s prayerfulness, flexibility, and resilience but hopes that students long for the restoration of things as they once were. “I hope that [through chapel] we find strength in God’s word and are reminded that Jesus loves us. At the same time, I pray that there’s a bit of dissatisfaction in watching chapel online. This is not the way it’s supposed to be, and I hope that we grow in our longing to be together again in chapel”  he said. 

Each worship apprentice interviewed by Chimes mourned the feedback that once came from an embodied (rather than virtual) audience. WAs encourage students to reach out and share their experiences with virtual chapel through email, messages, or a quick conversation. Tilburt shared this prayer: “As you watch Chapel this semester, I pray that you will be encouraged by our worship together/apart. I pray that you will find rest for your souls in Jesus. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, but we’ll get there.”