Last school year, many worship events on Southern Adventist University’s campus were held in a large tent. So far this semester, the tent has not been used, as it was taken down due to building codes.
The Office of Ministry and Missions, formerly known as Campus Ministries, recommended that the university use a tent last year, and the President’s Cabinet approved the financial purchase. Southern scheduled months in advance for the Chattanooga Tent Company to erect the tent.
“The tent needed to be custom made,” said Joseph Khabbaz, vice president for spiritual life and chaplain. “It also needed to be cleared by the fire marshal in the area.”
Khabbaz said the tent could not stay up this semester because there are “certain designations when it comes to what is considered a permanent structure.” He explained that something is considered a permanent structure when it is erected and remains up for more than 365 days. Once it becomes a permanent structure, its safety requirements increase.
“We needed every day possible [for the tent] to be up for the whole year,” Khabbaz said. “If it went over 366 days, then we needed to put in a sprinkler system, etc.”
According to Khabbaz, the university negotiated with the fire marshall to classify the tent as inactive during breaks so the university could keep the tent up for more days.
Currently, Southern is holding worship events in the University church. The plan is to erect the tent again sometime in November so the university has a place to transition worship services if COVID-19 cases rise. However, there is no set date. Khabbaz said there is no desire to make the tent a permanent structure, but to have it when necessary.
Last school year, those who attended university worship events sat in distanced chairs in the tent with their masks on. Now, those attending university worship events sit in every other row in the church with masks still required.
“Contact tracing is still happening,” Khabbaz said. “There is continuous monitoring of the COVID-19 cases.”
Khabbaz said if cases increase significantly, the university will pivot to holding online worship services. However, if the tent is up, the university might use it instead.
“There is a lot more student engagement when there are in-person events,” Khabbaz said. “ … The worship experience is one of the most important parts of the Southern experience.”