Remote services leaves students longing for post-pandemic worship


Jamison Van Andel

Many Calvin students have been attending worship services remotely this year.

As Calvin was transitioning back to in-person classes and gatherings in the fall, campus ministries encouraged students wanting to participate in chapel worship services to “hum together, sing alone.” 

The mantra is indicative of many Calvin students’ worship experiences, both at chapel services and Sunday gatherings, as they try to nurture their faith while remaining safe.

Calvin sophomore Sam Fynwever attends Madison Square church, which has been releasing weekly services on Youtube. After the recorded portion of the service, members of the congregation gather on a Zoom call to discuss the sermon and pray with each other. 

Fynwever lamented the loss of spontaneous acts of worship, which are difficult to have in a pre-recorded service. 

However, the isolation that results from the pandemic has opened the opportunity for new ways of experiencing God. Fynwever has begun using the Pray As You Go app every morning. “It’s a really nice form of prayer, and being able to turn solitude even in a painstaking way into some kind of community with God.”

Marian Henderson, another Calvin sophomore, has been attending remote services at both Iglesia para las Naciones and Elevation Church. Remote services have given her the chance to engage in worship experiences that she otherwise might not have had, especially with Iglesia para las Naciones, which is based in Colombia. 

Henderson said it’s been hard to have the same approach to services when they’re remote instead of being in person. 

“I think instead of on Sundays having the day centered around going to church and having that time of worship, it’s more trying to fit church into your schedule,” she said. 

Watching recorded services with a friend helps her stay engaged with what’s happening on the screen. 

“In a way it keeps you accountable. You’re not tempted to go on your phone or anything, and you have someone then to talk about it with afterwards and really unpack it, which I think is important,” Henderson said. 

Like Fynwever, Henderson has tried to be intentional about developing other spiritual disciplines during the pandemic, like prayer and Bible reading. 

As a remote student last semester taking classes online from her home in Spain, Hadassa Ribiero experienced in-person, socially distanced worship services that abided by COVID guidelines as restrictions were lifted. Even though services were in person, they still weren’t the same, she said. 

“You never knew how to greet someone, there was always this awkward pause of okay, hello, maybe elbows, I don’t know,” she said. 

Now back in Grand Rapids, she watches Vineyard Church’s livestream service with her roommate every week. 

The in-person worship experience is definitely different, she said. 

“It’s more tangible than when you’re remotely,” she said. “I am absolutely sure that God still speaks to our hearts and he’s still moving through us and around us even as we livestream church, but it’s true that it becomes more abstract than when you’re in person with people and you get to partake in the worship experience.”

Natalie Systma has been worshiping in person this semester with Reformation OPC. 

“Reformation is pretty small, which I think gives them more flexibility to continue worshipping in person with fewer adaptations,” Systma said. 

She noted how the pandemic affected worship, with most congregants spacing out, wearing masks, and sanitizing hands frequently. 

Still, she’s grateful to be able to participate in-worship in the same room as others. “There’s something intrinsically different about participating in that as part of an in-person community rather than on an on-line platform,” Systma said. “God made people to worship and glorify Him as a body, and that happens best when we worship in person.”

Given the difficulties of the pandemic, worship has been particularly meaningful for Systma in the last few months. “That kind of participatory communion [with God and his body] fills me up, encourages me, and reminds me of the sovereignty and kindness of God, even amidst the tragedy of a global pandemic.”

Even as students develop new worship practices because of the pandemic, they look forward to a time when they’re able to worship in the same ways they were able to before COVID. 

Fynwever hopes to bring his floormates to Madison Square services once they resume in person, and Henderson looks forward to being able to sing in worship with others in the same space. 

Ribiero said, “[I’m looking forward to] just gathering together, in a big group, without worrying that I’m risking someone’s life…. Feeling the sense of community in person again and communion and fellowship is something that I’m really looking forward to when we get back to worshiping in person again.”