To adapt to social distancing guidelines while still providing an in-person worship experience this coming fall semester, vespers will not be held inside the church but outdoors in an oval tent.
The tent, measuring around 76 by 166 feet, can hold 1,600 people; but to follow health guidelines, and considering the space used for the stage, the inside will only accommodate an approximate of 800 students. Following the same precautions, the University Church is limited to hold only 600.
“There’s a number of reasons why we wanted a tent,” said Vice President of Spiritual Life Joseph Khabbaz. “But one of the major reasons was, if we were still going to have vespers in the church, we would not be able to fit every single student based on social distancing. So, we wanted at least one place on campus that would be able to have all the students worship together.”
Outside of the tent, vespers coordinators will also place screens to project the worship inside. So, students who wish to bring blankets and sit on the field can also join the service. This will accommodate an extra 800-1,000 students if needed, according to Khabbaz.
Coordinators are looking to place the tent at A. W. Spalding Elementary School’s field, which is near the University Church and just across the road from Thatcher South. Coordinators are looking to place the tent at A. W. Spalding Elementary School’s field, which is near the University Church and just across the road from Thatcher South. Khabbaz said the location is subject to change, however, as the team wants to ensure there is accessible electricity connection, reliable Wi-Fi and nearby bathroom facilities.
The tent will have three entrances and exits, which will be monitored to control the amount of people inside. Afterglow will take place in these areas as well.
To adjust to the weather, heating solutions and fans will be installed to help with cold and hot temperatures, respectively.
Though Khabbaz hopes students will come to join vespers in person, he says he understands some may not want to attend these larger gatherings. Therefore, vespers will also be live-streamed online, and students will still be able to get worship credits if they participate in the online service.*
“Though part of the experiences is worshiping together, we also recognize some students may not be comfortable doing that,” Khabbaz said. “[So], we don’t want them to be penalized for that.”
Students who join online worship will have to remain connected throughout the entirety of the program. Live-streaming will also be used in the case of rain.
Despite these changes, Khabbaz says the flow of the programs will remain the same.
“We realized that spirituality on campus will be different this year because we’ve been through so much since we left campus,” Khabbaz said. “We’re going to celebrate coming together, but we’re also going to heal together and look forward to what God has in store for us this semester.”