Going Virtual: Chaplaincy During COVID
By: Young Adult and Campus Ministries
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all aspects of society from stores and restaurants to schools and houses of worship. When it became clear that the aforementioned public places could be quite dangerous, places began to close their doors to the public and impose restrictions to help stop the spread of the virus.
Chaplains at universities and colleges had to quickly adapt to the changing public landscape, altering many of their regular practices and curtailing in-person gatherings significantly. This could’ve been a disconcerting time for chaplains on campus, but it hasn’t been. In many cases, the changes resulted in an uptick in engagement and a commitment to pray across the miles.
Chaplains across the country took to hosting services online, which allowed for anyone to attend the service, including people out of state and alumni of their ministries. Additionally, chaplains have gotten creative with some of their offerings during the pandemic.
“I’ve been working with Province VIII Young Adult and Campus Ministries,” said Chaplain Ben Garren at University of Arizona in Tucson. “We’ve been sponsoring distant quiet days the first Saturday of every month, they start at nine o’clock in the morning and they run until four o’clock in the afternoon.”
While chaplains have been adapting to the ever-changing climate, they’re still a bit confounded. They’ve managed to keep parts in motion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not at a loss.
“In the Hebrew, the same word is wind and spirit and breath,” said Reverend Stacy Alan, chaplain at the University of Chicago. “What do we do when that can also be the source of infection and death?”
“The hardest thing has been all of my pastoral instincts,” said Alan, “the things that I do naturally when someone is in a crisis, are exactly what I can’t do. I can’t lay hands on someone, I can’t bring them communion, I can’t give them a hug, I can’t make them a cup of tea.”
Alan channeled her frustration into a plan of action, offering popular Zoom services despite having held their last in-person session in March. One of Alan’s especially profound offerings was a reading of the Great Litany, the first prayers translated from Latin to English, over Zoom to unite and guide everyone through the uncertainty of election night.
Chaplains everywhere have had to get creative to keep up engagement, and it’s been working. Reverend Brian Smith, chaplain at the Episcopal University Center in Tallahassee, Florida, organized a program over the summer whereby participants would read the entire bible in 90 days, checking in frequently over Zoom for discussion. “We’re going to connect as much as distance allows us to connect,” said Smith. These connections have strengthened and changed campus ministry during COVID.
Chaplains have taken to Zoom as well as certain outdoor, socially distanced gatherings to keep engaged with their local community. One of the great benefits has been that people from across the country have tuned into their services, even from states away. Regardless of how it’s done, chaplains are making the best of a challenging situation.
“The reality that campus ministry and young adult ministry are crucial for us to have for when crisis hits in the lives of young adults,” said Garren, “we’re seeing that very clearly.”
“Keeping young adults connected and safe during the pandemic has been at the heart of our ministry during this time,” said Rev. Shannon Kelly, Director of the Department of Faith Formation and Officer for Young Adult and Campus Ministries, “because when everything is disconnected and upended, we have to be here for each other. Ministers have been working hard to connect, reach out, help young adults find housing and food when needed, and provide a spiritual home wherever people land. I am so deeply grateful for their ministry and for the support they have given each other during this time.”