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Chapel Planning for a Pandemic

Social distancing has impacted not only the configuration of the classroom and lunch, but also Chapel, an integral part of Episcopal's community. Rev. Art Callaham, our new chaplain, has coordinated with Rev. Beth Holden to get back to basics and the Chapel program is something he has taken on in his new role. Together, they revisited history of both the School and the Church and asked the question, "What are the basic elements that constitute worship in our tradition?" COVID-19 precautions have meant reworking Chapel service and paring it down to what's most important.

"Yes, we all like singing," Rev. Callaham says. "We all like communion, we all like fancy processionals and lengthy sermons that tie seamlessly into the scripture passages that have been read, but social distancing requirements have meant that won't be possible. So, we started with the basics: readings and prayers."

As EHS has moved from an S4 to an S2 schedule, the chaplains have been (and will be) adding elements to worship fitting to the current situation and generally supportive of the overall goals of the Religion Pillar. Speakers and soloists made the most sense right away. Rev. Callaham adds, "For the time being, Chapel will always be at least readings and prayers whether we are in the Chapel itself, in our advisories, or watching (and even filming) from home."

Traditionally, the readings from Chapel have either been selected by the speaker or from the Episcopal Church's Daily Office Lectionary (a two-year cycle of readings designed to walk people through a very large part of the Bible over the course of a couple of calendar years of daily morning and evening prayers). Says Rev. Callaham, "While I love the Daily Lectionary for my personal devotions, it is not particularly well suited for a program like ours that meets for less than nine months of the year, once a day, and never on the weekend. Too many gaps form, particularly during the really important parts of the Bible story like Christmas and Easter. And, the Lectionary readings tend to be very long, way too long to fit into our new 15-minute format."

So, Rev. Holden and Rev. Callaham started writing an EHS lectionary for use in the Chapel. Their goal is to survey the major stories and teachings of the Bible over the course of two school years. They've been mindful of the flow of both the church and the school calendar and have tried to select readings that are familiar, appropriate, and brief.

For example, this fall, the chaplains started with passages that talked about "the beginning" (for the beginning of school) and then jumped into the stories of Creation and the Biblical Ancestors. Later this fall, they will look at some more important stories from the Old Testament before turning, in November and December, to stories that talk about the birth of Jesus. In the spring, Rev. Holden and Rev. Callaham will visit some of Jesus's teachings and miracle, before taking a break from the survey for a closer look at Holy Week and Easter. "Our hope," Rev. Callaham says, "is that no matter how long a student spends at EHS, they will get at least one full lap through the cycle."

Going back to basics has had other benefits, like adapting quickly to unforeseen circumstances. When the campus closed because of a tropical storm, Rev. Callaham was able to quickly farm out pieces of liturgy to members of the community, who in turn could record readings on their own computers. Each participant could focus on just their small part.

The "Dear Chaplain" video on the second day of campus closure from the weather was the brainchild of Rev. Callaham's kids and turned out to be the ultimate rainy-day project. "I had been thinking about how we could maximize the potential of video worship," Rev. Callaham recalls. "And so, 'Dear Chaplain' was born."

The chaplains have tried to look at the challenges of the pandemic as an opportunity to try out new things, such as the Election Prayer Guide to promote campus unity during the election season. "We're looking closely at what works and what doesn't so that when things return to normal, we can have some tried and true creative ideas to work back into the traditions of this place."

--Emma Tsai