Room for Jesus- Coronavirus, spontaneous worship, and reformed culture

Nicholas Hembrough—Guest Writer

At first, the darkness and the bright hues that splashed the back wall of the BJ Haan Auditorium were all that could be seen. Once eyes adjusted, students made their way down the wide aisles of the auditorium and partitioned into rows set six feet apart. An eagerness hung in the air like a fog, making every breath heavy in anticipation. The clock struck 10 pm, the band filled the stage, the leaders welcomed the students, and the first Thursday night Praise and Worship began.

In the ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, corporate worship culture has shifted in America and across the world; the inability to meet face-to-face forced has many churches online exclusively, resulting in a complete lack of live, group worship opportunities.

Likewise, this fall, Dordt has severely limited in-person attendance in accordance with COVID-19 precautions. This means some events, like Thursday night Praise and Worship, formerly held in the Grill Area in the Student Center, have now been moved to larger venues,

like the BJ Haan Auditorium. This transition, however, has not been particularly easy.

“We don’t have any time to set up—we were very lucky that the class that was in the BJ Haan on Thursday night ended about 25 minutes early this past week. That helped us out a lot,”

Alex Priore, the worship arts tech director, said.

“To not have our own space for worship is challenging, because we are sharing it with so many other people on campus.”

The limitations of the space did not seem to curb the excitement of students, however, as the first night of the revamped worship event filled the BJ Haan to its then-maximum limit of 200. Students soon realized, though, that the space and masks were not the only alteration that had occurred from last year’s sets. The format had changed as well.

As the music started, students were asked to remain sitting while a song was prayed over them. But after several minutes of music, teaching, and prayer from the stage, many students became confused. There were no breaks in the music between where one song started and another stopped, many of the songs and phrases being sung were unfamiliar to them, and the students were unsure of what they were supposed to do at times.

“That was good for a little bit, but at some point, probably about ten minutes in, maybe a little less than that, it was like, ‘OK, are we going to sing more, or is this it?’” Said Clara Peterson, a junior.

“Part of it is that they were on stage… and there was less of a community feel.” Peterson said. “There was very much a disconnect but it’s definitely also a cultural thing. Most churches around here have liturgies, and that’s what people are used to so they sometimes feel lost.”

Reformed students were not the only ones who left the BJ Haan with questions and thoughts about the new format for the evening though; Priore also felt confused.

“As a person in worship, I felt like there was a lot of exhortation, but not a lot of activation.” Priore said.

“It went on so long that, as someone who was there to worship and there to sing in that designated time, it was tough.”

When asked about the biggest improvement Praise and Worship could stand to make, Priore did not wish for a time without masks or social distancing. Rather, she made a statement of hope for the future.

“I would love to see leaders engage in spiritual song more, and then call the congregation into it with them.” She said. “I feel like there’s a lot of willingness in students, but it might be hard ground because it’s unfamiliar to a lot of people. It might feel unstructured.”

The next Praise and Worship will be Thursday, October 15, at 10 pm in the BJ Haan Auditorium.

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