Sitting in my office on a gorgeous summer’s day, I can see from my window the stillness of the university campus. The Christian camp that typically utilizes our facilities over the summer canceled their services. All summer school classes and athletic conditioning have moved online; so not a student is to be seen. Even the few staff who are on campus, by and large, are staying in their offices and meeting remotely. COVID-19, with all of its fury, has brought an unsettling tranquility to this day.
And yet, I know that the 2020-2021 school year is fast approaching, and I’ve got to have a plan.
University staffers, for the most part, do not just develop the school calendar, they obsess over it. “Flexibility” is the value, but “certainty” is the boss. Athletic, academic, and associational commitments are hammered out years in advance to ensure that time-tested best practices prevail within their educational institutions in order to guide their students’ holistic formation.
Plato famously said: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Some might argue that for higher education, necessity is the mother of reinvention. University life is always changing. While higher education itself is nothing new, with each new class of incoming freshmen, ongoing institutional adjustments and modifications are made. After all, I don’t remember seeing “support animals” on campus when I was completing my undergraduate degree. Simple considerations of students’ needs, sometimes take the form of sizable shifts within a university — this has always been so.
But, unless I’m wrong, I think this time is different.
I happily serve at a private Christian liberal arts university. I am one of the campus ministers. Before, COVID-19, campus ministry was different. I routinely trained and deployed university students to do missionary work, facilitate youth group events, and mentor schoolchildren at the local middle school without worrying about surpassing the CDC recommended gathering capacity. During our weekly outreach event, we consistently lined up students to pick up a complimentary meal without reminders to keep 6 feet of distance between them and their peers. I faithfully stood outside the chapel, every Thursday night, as students gathered for our Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) service, to greet university students with a high five or a hug, and I wasn’t even wearing a mask or nylon gloves.
So, what do I do when I’ve been tasked to predict the unpredictable? What do I do if every aspect of my ministry on campus is rightfully greeted with some measure of trepidation by the very people I long to serve? News sources report ever-increasing levels of anxiety, phobias, and suicide. So how do I best minister to distressed college students in a COVID-19 context?
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Joshua Gilmore