By Grace Snell, Viking Fusion Reporter
And Anna Salisbury, Viking Fusion Contributor
MOUNT BERRY, Ga—Berry College campus ministries found new solutions to help meet students’ spiritual and emotional needs, despite COVID-19’s effects on college life this semester.
One of the ministries that adjusted its programming was the Berry College Chaplain’s Office. While many are dealing with the compounded stresses of schoolwork, home life, economic uncertainty and health concerns, College Chaplain Rev. Jonathan Huggins said the Chaplain’s Office hopes to help students navigate these challenges.
“There’s the added threat, or fear, associated with the coronavirus and the pandemic: people worried about their loved ones, getting depressed from being isolated and alone, cut off from their friends,” Huggins said. “So, we definitely want to help students in that way.”
Huggins said his office made it a priority to keep in touch with individual students and started offering pastoral care appointments to students via Zoom. Huggins also created a weekly podcast with Rev. Erin Moniz, the assistant chaplain, and a blog to tackle tough questions and provide encouragement to Berry students.
The Chaplain’s Office is not alone in these efforts. Huggins said that campus ministries such as Campus Outreach, the WinShape College Program, Young Life, and Baptist Collegiate Ministries also offered online resources for students. Aubrey Georgian, Manager of the Residential Community at Berry College, said that one of the primary concerns of WinShape’s staff was finding ways to strengthen students’ relationships with each other.
“I guess the main thing is just trying to keep students connected,” Georgian said. “I really believe that if a student is connected relationally, that their walk with Jesus will be stronger.”
In order to facilitate this, the WinShape College Program moved all of its weekly meetings online. Staff members also tried to reach out to each student individually, according to Georgian.
Colt Doster, a sophomore in the WinShape College Program, said he appreciates the way that these meetings have helped him keep a positive outlook and to prepare for the time when in-person classes resume.
“One thing that WinShape has really tried to do is just, instead of trying to wait to rebuild a relationship with people and wait to rebuild that community into what we know it and love, is just trying to maintain throughout,” Doster said.
Another way for students to continue building community is through the online resources of Campus Outreach. Salley Kate Pierce, a sophomore and member of Campus Outreach’s impact team said that, after the cancellation of classes, all their discipleship groups and Bible studies transitioned to Zoom video-chats. Campus Outreach leaders also posted questions and devotionals on their Instagram.
Pierce said that her personal discipleship group has provided a source of accountability and motivation for her spiritual growth during this online semester.
“It kind of reminds me: okay, I want to be able to share what the Lord has been doing in my life this week, and also just gives me so many more resources and ways to engage,” Pierce said.
In addition to the role of relationships, Huggins said that the way students care for themselves physically can also impact their spiritual lives.
“Our physical bodies are part of our human existence, and I think it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to thrive spiritually if you don’t take care of yourself physically,” Huggins said. “And if you’re always having to battle weariness and tiredness because you don’t eat, sleep or exercise, you’re not going to feel like you are spiritually thriving either. So, that physical care and activity actually serves a flourishing heart.”
Huggins said that taking the personal initiative to engage in practices that nourish the soul such as prayer, meditation, scripture reading, journaling and online worship is also vital to this flourishing. This can be as simple as going for a walk or reading a book, practices which can be life-changing, according to Huggins. Although acknowledging that many students still have busy online schedules, Huggins encouraged students to take advantage of the extra time for self-reflection while they are homebound.
Although many see stay-at-home and social distancing directives as opportunities for growth, ministry leaders recognize that it can also be a frustrating time for students who find themselves distracted and discouraged. For students who find themselves in this situation, Georgian said she is right there with them. She said that achieving personal growth is hard for her as well, and that sharing struggles with a trusted friend is the best thing a person can do to grow.
“I realize we all need someone to help us do it nine times out of ten,” Georgian said. “We are unable to do it on our own, or do it well on our own, and so just saying it out loud is really helpful and encouraging and motivating.”
Pierce says she has used the resources provided by campus ministries to stay connected with her campus, and that now can be a time of spiritual growth for students who lean into the challenge.
“I would just encourage the student body to consider seeking God and consider learning about God and who he really is,” Pierce said.
Campus Outreach: @co_berrycollege
Chaplain’s Office: @bc_chaplain
Baptist Collegiate Ministries: @bcm.berry.college
Theology For Life Blog: https://www.theologyforlife.net/
The Berry Chaplain’s Podcast: