As Pastor Rob Parker of The Plant Church in Mahwah stood in front of a soccer field full of teenagers and teachers, he said, “God has given you weaponry and armor to protect you and advance you but it begins with you taking off your old self and putting on Jesus.”
Despite a tremendous amount of preparation needed, both the middle and high school were able to host outdoor, COVID-safe chapels as a means of worshipping together and embracing the community that has been separated for too long.
On the unseasonably warm morning of October 22nd, 2020, the high school students left their first block classroom and headed outside to the soccer field. They encountered a field full of desk chairs, perfectly aligned according to class and flawlessly organized six feet apart from each other. After all classes (including those at home, watching through a Google Meet) were present, Principal David Intlekofer addressed and welcomed the whole high school student body for the first time this school year.
The chapel included two worship songs led by the student worship team, and a time dedicated for students to personally receive prayer from teachers. The message from Pastor Parker, amongst many football references and analogies, challenged students to protect their hearts and to be willing to step into the offense and engage for the Gospel.
The middle school was able to have two outdoor chapel days during the fall season with one message from Pastor Richard Jones of Bridgeway Community Church in Haledon and the other message from middle school Principal Dan Lazor. “In a regular year,” says Mr. Lazor, “you might take chapel for granted. In a COVID year, you realize how much it means. I think the high school’s effort to make an outdoor chapel encouraged us to make it happen too.”
While each chapel was meaningful and successful, they required an immense amount of planning and preparation. For the high school chapel, many faculty members teamed up with the student chapel planning team to make it happen in a safe and smooth way. Other students helped clean up the chairs and equipment. The middle school chapels required a lot of planning from Mr. Lazor and the other teachers who assisted with music and coordination.
The success of these chapels was obvious. “It was a lot of hard work and coordination,” says Mrs. Anna DeJulia, the head of the high school chapel planning team. “It was so worth it. The end result far outweighed the work that it took to create it.”
What was most important, however, was the presence of community. Mrs. DeJulia says that “our goal is to provide loving, community-based experiences as much as we are able, according to guidelines and making sure our students are safe.” Mr. Lazor states, “I think there is a connection between being a community that worships together and the unity that comes with that.”