KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Entering a chapel may remind people of solemn singing, an ambiance of hope, and the desire to unite their spiritual yearnings. For many, the pulse of the ecclesiastical structure in military communities resonates in the worship services provided by chaplains.
With parishioners staying at home to stave off COVID-19, the pews and high ceilings of Army chapels have only heard silence. With places of worship closed as part of the rules requiring physical distancing, reinvigorating resiliency through social media outlets during unprecedented times has become a focus for the garrison's Religious Support Office.
The commitment of the five chaplains who make up the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz spiritual team in helping parishioners keep their spiritual well-being intact extends to the people at Kaiserslautern, Baumholder and Landstuhl.
The pandemic has charged the team to strengthen the bonds of interaction between itself and the community. Maintaining a degree of faith during this time is “an introvert’s daydream and an extrovert’s nightmare, where the extrovert may struggle more to sustain a spiritual impulse,” said Maj. Michael Dawson, the garrison family life chaplain, describing the COVID-19 challenge.
From idea to implementation, religious affairs specialists have strived to inform the community of the religious services available.
“We wanted to reach everyone in the community, so we put signs out throughout the garrison as well as on the chapel doors of our featured virtual religious, communion, and counseling services,” said Sgt. 1st Class Latoral Bishop, garrison religious affairs specialist.
To try and fulfill the spiritual needs of the KMC, the team turned to social media in hopes of reaching as many parishioners as possible.
“The use of technology has allowed us to create activities for parishioners and their children in regards to corresponding motivating scripture, to help them navigate the challenges of isolation by building open lines of communication,” Dawson said, “The online venues appear to be working, having generated more engagement and bolstering the resiliency of the community."
“We’ve had 1,000 people tune into our Sunday worship service and at least 350 people stay tuned in for the entire worship service,” according to Lt. Col. Craig Johnson, director of garrison religious services. “Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, an average worship service consisted of approximately 40 parishioners, I think that is very telling.”
The religious specialists say the numbers show the receptiveness to the virtual venues. However, they said it has not been easy.
“It is our duty as religious affairs specialists and chaplains, to give a message of hope to the community during this time. Together we will continue to overcome these challenges,” Bishop said.
“The changes made by the COVID-19 restrictions has coalesced the resiliency of the community,” Dawson said. “My clients have expressed to me that they have more time to build their family bonds and have had more time to focus on the simple stuff, like preparing a wholesome meal together as a family.”
The religious services team agrees that, answering the call to revamp how services are offered has also strengthened the spiritual core of the parishioners within the garrison.