Mary Grace von Thron, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
Like so many facets of life that have been greatly altered due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, religious life is no exception.
The religious life groups that Berry offers to students have undergone a large amount of change since March. Several groups have been conducting meetings and events through Zoom instead of meeting in person.
“During shelter in place, we started doing everything online and there were weekend retreats that went virtual,” Reverend Erin Moniz, assistant chaplain at Berry said. “We also started really strategizing on our social media.”
In an attempt to help students through the many changes that the spring brought Moniz and Berry’s Chaplain Rev. Jonathan Huggins set up a virtual meeting space for students needing pastoral care. They also began recording a weekly podcast for students called “Wednesday Word.”
“It was a way to put out content every week to provide hope and interesting thoughts and content for people that were missing having that discipleship” Moniz said.
In addition to the podcast, student workers in the Chaplain’s Office will soon be launching a new podcast called “Over Coffee,” inspired by the blog of the same name.
The Over Coffee blog has been a place that allows Berry students to work through their spiritual thoughts and ideas in an informal way for over two years. The idea to create a podcast similar to the blog was inspired by a student working in the Chaplain’s Office.
“So now we have a podcast called Over Coffee,” Moniz said. “It’ll be taking questions that different students have about faith and religion, and there will be a student host each week that rotates.”
The questions asked on the podcast will be answered by two experts whether it be Moniz and Huggins or a professor at Berry.
“It’s another way to connect with people and get content out there, think about formative ideas and to ask hard questions about religion,” Moniz said. “I think this is a good time for that. People have a lot of questions that have emerged in this time of life.”
Even though the podcast was already in the works when face-to-face instruction was suspended last semester, the pandemic gave the Chaplain’s office an opportunity pull the trigger on creating the podcast.
“And then when everyone had to shelter in place, we thought ‘perfect timing, let’s do it,’” Moniz said.
Even though technology has allowed religious life to continue in some ways, Jeffrey Lidke, faculty advisor of the Berry Buddhist Group, said that it is not the same as gathering in person and hopes that religious life will resume as it once was in the not too distant future.
“In the meantime, with these restrictions in place, I would think for most of us it’s preventing what most religions take as the basis of what they are about, and that’s congregating,” Lidke said. “In Buddhism, for example, there’s this idea of the three jewels. That you take refuge in the three jewels, and those are the jewel of the Buddha or the sacred teacher, the Dharma, which is the teachings. And the third jewel is the community. And the idea is that there’s something very special and powerful about gathering together in person and sharing your experience and your wisdom and having that connection.”
Even though there have been some advantages of religious life going virtual, such as alumni being able to Zoom into the Berry Buddhist Group meetings and churches becoming more technologically-savy, both Moniz and Lidke say that it is taking away a vital aspect of religion- community.
“Religion has been the same for the last thousands of years, it’s very much based around people coming together and sharing beliefs and rituals,” Moniz said.
Currently, all student organizations, including religious life groups, are required to meet virtually until at least Sept. 6, when Berry plans to reevaluate their current situation. If religious groups are allowed to meet in person, social distancing guidelines will still apply.