86th AW chaplain corps: When crisis breeds innovation

Members of the Contemporary Service Worship Team gather near the Northside Chapel at Ramstein Air Base, April 9.

Protocols put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 affected everyone. Work hours and duty locations were altered to comply with physical distancing; homes were turned into classrooms as schools closed; social gatherings were stopped and limited to chat groups or apps, to name a few of the many changes that occurred.

With each change comes new challenges. As with many others, the 86th Airlift Wing chaplain corps was forced to adapt.

“Crisis lends its way to creativity and innovation,” said Capt. Alex Johnson, 86th AW staff chaplain.

The chaplains work together, finding innovative ways to reach the communities they serve in order to still maintain some of the traditions each faith observes. Each faith provider found unique ways to deliver sermons or services.

Some chaplains live stream from their homes into those of its community, while others video record, edit and post messages of hope and resiliency for their faithful to view at a later date.

The Contemporary Service Worship Team came together to record worship songs at sunrise to accompany the sermon aired Easter Sunday. The use of technology became necessary to adhere to physical distancing protocols set in place to slow the spread of coronavirus disease 2019.

“It takes a lot more preparation,” Johnson said in reference to the editing process and to preparing for traditions.

Recently, a virtual communion service was held, but items once provided by the chapel were not. The week before the scheduled communion, the community was given a list of items they could substitute and still participate from the comfort of their own homes. The communion service itself was different as well. The chaplain administered communion to his family for the community to witness. As he did, he broke down the observance and gave a more in-depth teaching of the tradition.

The Passover Seder, a major observance for the Jewish community, was virtually broadcast via a group video conference to comply with physical distancing protocols.

“It is definitely more of an effort to connect with each other,” said Maj. Sarah Schechter, staff chaplain and Rabbi. “The focus is often on preparing the meal, and yes, preparing the message and service. I think we take it for granted that we can see each other in person and gather … here we are, spending hours trying to make sure we can see them and they can see us.”

U.S. Air Force Capt. Alex Johnson, 86th Airlift Wing staff chaplain, records a sermon for future viewers outside the Northside Chapel at Ramstein Air Base, April 9. The sermon was pre-recorded, edited and posted for the congregation due to physical distancing protocols prohibiting gatherings of more than two people.

The COVID-19 crisis forced the chaplain corps to take that leap into the 21st century. It may have come with challenges, but the 86th AW chaplains met each challenge head on and have enjoyed success in the process.

“We’ve actually doubled our viewership online,” Johnson said.

There is a plan to maintain some of the online services, even after physical distancing protocols are lifted.

Even though the services for the community have currently moved online, there is still a chaplain on-call 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. A chaplain is available in person for emergency sessions during the duty day at the Northside Chapel, or via the Command Post at 06371-47-2121.