By Angela Baerg – Collegedale, Tennessee … How do you plan a vespers program meant for fellowshipping, making new friends, and studying the Bible in an era where everyone is encouraged to hide behind masks, avoid hugs and handshakes, and stay six feet away from each other?  That was the question for vespers coordinator Natalie (Boonstra) Lilly, a senior public relations major from Loveland, Colorado when she assumed the role at Southern Adventist University, last fall.

Lilly had to think outside the normal concepts of worship and become a very different vespers coordinator than Southern had ever seen before. In addition to organizing speakers, musicians, and tech support, Lilly and her team worked hard to keep the students safe, implementing rigorous cleaning routines and other safety protocols.

“We were working hard to foster a worshipful atmosphere in spite of it all,” says Lilly. “In a time of chaos, I wanted people to have something that felt familiar.”

To keep students safe and reduce exposure to the pandemic, Southern moved vespers to an outdoor tent erected on the lawn of the Collegedale church with enough space for students to socially distance but not be confined to an indoor space.

Lilly knew how important it was to give people a chance to plug in and be part of the campus community even during the strange times the world was experiencing. A Colorado native and Loveland church member, she didn’t know many people when she arrived on campus in 2016.  She recalled her experience that year connecting with others by joining LifeGroups, those student-led groups designed for fellowship, study, and opportunity for students to connect with each other and with God in a small group setting.

“During my first year at Southern, it really helped me to meet people and make connections,” says Lilly. “I loved being part of a group of girls who read a book and prayed together. My favorite part was when we would write a note of affirmation for the person sitting next to us.”

In May 2021, Natalie graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and became a communication intern at the Pennsylvania Conference.

“I feel well-prepared and excited for my new job and responsibilities,” she says. “This year was a challenge, but it was also full of growth. I’m so happy that my vespers team was able to give our students a way to worship together while still keeping them safe and helping our school stay open.”

–Angela Baerg is a Southern Adventist University alumna with a history major, currently working as a preschool teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee; photo supplied