WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – When COVID-19 first hit the United States, life was instantly changed. Things people were used to doing in person, such as attending church, were no longer an option.
That is when churches, including those on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, were forced to pivot and begin offering services online through either prerecorded or livestream options. For many, this meant learning a new skill set that few had.
“There were definitely some growing pains, especially in the first six months, as we worked to get the proper infrastructure in place,” said Capt. Cliff Mullen, 88th Air Base Wing Protestant chaplain. “We also had to work through how to make sure we have a product available when Sunday morning rolls around that people can actually access.”
This meant preparing volunteers and staff members to be on camera.
“You know, our folks who had spent years singing, reading scripture, doing announcements, saying prayers and all of those things, we’re used to having this live in-person audience,” Mullen said. “Now, they’re doing it with just a few of us in the room and a camera staring them in the face, so it’s a different experience.”
Over the past two years, kinks have been worked out and attendance remained strong, despite being online and physically distanced from each other.
“Right now, we are averaging between 150 and 200 views each week during our online service,” Mullen said. “But that’s just devices logged in — you can figure at least two or three people per device as it’s often couples or even families gathered together for church service. While we don’t have a way to know for sure the number of people watching, I think it’s safe to say you could triple the number of devices to get the actual attendance.”
This is compared to the average Protestant in-person attendance of approximately 350 weekly prior to COVID-19. Catholic Masses offered by the chaplains have had similar results.
“We even have stories of folks who have invited long-distance family members to come join them for a service from places all over the country,” said Cheri Champagne, Catholic parish coordinator for Wright-Patterson AFB.
Added Mullen: “It’s been really encouraging to see how we’ve still been able to bring households together and create opportunities for extended family to experience church together in ways that they couldn’t do when we were just in person.”
Now, as the base returns to Health Protection Condition Bravo+, in-person services have begun meeting again.
“We have in-person Mass seven days a week someplace on base, but we only livestream on Saturday evening and Sunday morning,” Champagne said.
Right now, both Catholic and Protestant services are limited to 40% of their seating capacity.
At this time, Catholic Mass doesn’t require an RSVP to attend. However, individuals looking to attend Protestant service on Sunday mornings must RSVP in advance by clicking links under the “Chapel Services” section in the Wright-Patt Weekly Bulletin sent out by the 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office every Wednesday.
“Because we are limited in physical attendance numbers, we are asking people to RSVP in advance,” Mullen said. “Right now, we’ve got links out there for people to
RSVP through March, and each week, we update the links so people will always be able to RSVP about eight weeks in advance.”
Even though in-person attendance has resumed, Mullen says livestreaming will not be going anywhere.
“It’s always worth saying that, if we’ve learned anything, we have been reminded that there’s something special in the spiritual aspects of our life, of being able to actually connect with other people. Virtual will never fully replace what we’re able to achieve when we’re actually together,” he said. “But in this life, we live as folks committed to military service, both on the active-duty side and the civilian side. It can get pretty chaotic.
“Our online space really helps accommodate that and preserve connections and relationships as people go through the transitions that are so common to us. So we never want to lose sight of the value of being together in real life. But we’re just grateful that we’ve been required to learn this new skill that gives us the flexibility we need for the real-world experience that so many of us have.”
Sunday, 10:30 a.m. at Kittyhawk Chapel (50-person limit)
- Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WPAFBProtestantServices
- YouTube Channel: https://youtube.com/WPAFBProtestantChapel
Wright-Patterson Medical Center chapel: Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m.
Air Force Institute of Technology: Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
Prairies Chapel: Friday at noon, Saturday: 5 p.m. (livestream available), Sunday: 9 a.m. (livestream available), 11:30 a.m. (no livestream)
- Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WPCatholicCommunity
- YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UCT8piMXjlx1zgyBamJvvIzg?view_as=subscriber