Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, the 355th Wing Chapel at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., has adjusted to meet the religious needs of its Airmen.
By limiting the amount of attendees per room, the Desert Dove Chapel was able to keep its doors open through the peak of COVID-19 during the summer of 2020 and continues to keep its doors open by following safety guidelines and adapting to new ways for providing religious services.
“The reason we were able to maintain our religious services is because we invested time and expertise into our streaming equipment and we grew exponentially in our online viewership,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Leonard, 355th Wing Chaplain. “We are also able to keep our in-person services open because we are monitoring the way we deliver rites and ordinances by capping our services at 50 people on Sunday.”
The Desert Dove Chapel was one of only a handful of chapels under Air Combat Command that remained open during the peak of COVID-19. By remaining open, the chapel is able to promote spiritual resilience to ensure the Airmen stay focused on the mission.
“While most of the Catholic services in Tucson shut down in July, we continued to have services through the summer,” Leonard said. “By spreading out our staff and our attendees to different rooms, we are able to minimize the risk as much as possible while still providing religious services in person.”
While the chaplains have their hands full on Sundays, the job of making sure everyone in attendance follows the current guidelines falls on the shoulders of the Religious Affairs Airmen who operate behind the scenes during services.
“What we do is security, we make sure people are wearing masks and the number of attendees doesn’t go over 50 during COVID-19 ops,” said Tech. Sgt. Martin Harrie, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of chapel operations. “The tagline for us is ‘we take care of everything so the chaplains can do their job’.”
The chapel has also made contingency services for when attendance goes over 50 people, the same as a regular Sunday service, but in a different room of the chapel with another chaplain and RA Airman to accommodate the retirees on base.
Chaplains and RA Airmen have also been augmented to eight different squadrons across the 355th Wing occupying unit offices to give more access to the Airmen without exposing them to an area where they might be prone to getting infected.
“To keep from being a danger to our Airmen and possibly infecting other groups if they were to catch COVID-19, we’ve spread out our chaplain services,” Leonard said. “We send our Airmen and chaplains out to a variety of units on different days to provide these religious services while still keeping the risk to a minimum.”
The 355th Wing recognizes the importance of spiritual resilience through its chapel services, even amidst COVID-19 the chapel is able to keep the Airmen spiritually fit to fight.