Ministry with and to college students has been done for a long time on multiple “platforms,” where college ministers and students simultaneously live out faith in community both in person AND via text, GroupMe, snapchat, Instagram, Zoom, Google hangout, etc….The coronavirus has changed that for all who minister, but maybe even more so for campus ministers and chaplains whose groups not only had to social distance, but many also pack up their college rooms and lives, saying goodbye indefinitely through car windows and across courtyards. Within the span of a few days they had to figure out how to navigate Zoom, online classes, and countless other adjustments to-finish the semester without missing a beat.
But they are missing out – we all are – on graduations and community conversations, worship experiences and jam sessions, on retreats and bible studies, theological conversations and the random moments of laughter that is the connective tissue of college. There is also the absence of the real flesh-and-blood experiences that provide the infrastructure of academic life – lectures, study sessions, conversations with their professors, ordering graduation rings, regalia, walking the stage. To paraphrase one senior I heard about, “The finish line not only has been moved, it’s been taken down along with the cones and streamers that marked the way, and everyone has been told to go home.” All of the loss is very, very real.
Yet it’s not the only REAL thing. Hundreds of college ministries continue to meet across the quarantined miles to connect via Zoom meetings, Netflix watching parties, and livestream offerings to gain strength from one another, manage the boredom, and continue to engage with God. If you want a glimpse of the amazing work the Holy Spirit is doing, just go to Instagram or Facebook and look up any PC(USA) and Cumberland Presbyterian Church-related ministries to find the beautiful variety of ways college ministry is still happening. Or go to your favorite Presbyterian-related college online and search for wise words of comfort and guidance their chaplain has shared. (to find a list, go to www.ukirk.org and search “Find a Ministry.”)
It was one such Zoom call for college ministers last week where the question was asked in the midst of a discussion on “virtual” ministry, “In this time of quarantine and virtual ministry, is there an opportunity for us to do Holy Week virtually together? In this time of distancing from one another, for the UKirk network to actually come together for Holy Week somehow?” In other words, if #AloneTogether is trending, could it also be true we could be #UKirkOnlineTogether?
The answer is yes! Under the amazing leadership of Rev. Jessie Light-Wells, Rev. Rachel Penmore, Rev. Michael Sanchez, Rev. Rachel Hebert, and Rev. Neil Myer, with Rev. Max Hill, Rev. British Hyrams, Rev. Terilyn V. Lawson, Rev. Todd Salmi and Rev. Allison Wehrung, a way to journey through Holy Week individually, together as college communities, and as the larger UKirk network emerged.
Each day of Holy Week, a resource will be offered on the UKirk website (www.ukirk.org) and the UKirk Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/UKirkMinistries/) created by college ministers and students from across the country. Facebook Live events will take place Sunday night (Opening reflection), Wednesday Night (student jam session), Thursday night (Maundy Thursday service) and Friday (Good Friday Tenebrae service) at 7:30 pm EST.
Saturday, a prayer vigil will be held from Noon-Midnight (EST) where all college students will be prayed for throughout the day in a particular way each hour, and there will be a Sign-Up Genius link up beginning Monday for people to sign up for hour slots. We will end the week by celebrating Easter around the “stations of resurrection”.
Additionally there will be a digital station of the cross offered at Noon and 3:00 pm (EST) each day, for folks to travel through Holy Week engaging with scripture and reflection in audio, visual and written form.
We know there are 1,000 resources and ideas out there for Holy Week, and that campus ministers across the nation are doing amazing work during this unusual season in the life of our country, colleges, churches and communities. We also know too many things at one time can be overwhelming! What we hope, however, is that these offerings can be a UKirk touchstone of sorts, a place to stop by, be invited in for a few minutes, and to get a glimpse not only of God’s presence with you but God’s grace being poured out through the larger UKirk community.