College Ministry in 2020

Author: Rachel H├ębert
August 12, 2020

We have finally arrived: it is move-in day for the fall semester at William & Mary for the incoming freshmen! 

Move-in is happening earlier than usual and is being staggered throughout this weekend. All freshmen were required to quarantine for the 14 days leading up to moving in, and all upperclassmen who aren’t RA’s or orientation leaders will not arrive until the beginning of September. Exactly 5 months ago today, William & Mary students were on Spring Break and told not to return to campus for the next 2 weeks. Then 2 weeks turned into the remainder of the semester, and now we have students returning for the first time in those 5 months (save for a 2-hr. window at the end of last semester to move out of their dorm rooms). Even then, students are being told to bring enough to last them for 2-3 weeks.

Lessons from Psalm 131

Yes, collegiate ministry during the time of COVID-19 has looked very, very different indeed. This is not just felt by fellow campus ministers, but by the students as well. The last Psalm we looked at in our college summer series was Psalm 131. Students described the psalm as evoking guilt, hope, power to redeem, change, pain, looking, and journeying.

What they might not have realized, but what “A” Williams and I most assuredly heard was how these students felt moving back to Williamsburg. They feel guilt about leaving their homes (some of which are very toxic environments mentally and emotionally) and returning to town with the knowledge that there could be a rise in coronavirus cases. They are hopeful that they will be able to stay in Williamsburg as long as possible to at least spend some time physically distancing with friends. They are looking to Christ’s redemptive powers in the face of the overwhelming guilt they are struggling with. They know that this journey will involve change, but they know WPC and UKirk will be with them throughout this new semester.

The Easy Parts: Conversation and Food

Shifting to an all-online mode has not been a struggle for the students—in fact, they have taken to it smoothly and seem to prefer the ways our conversations flow online better than in-person! As we will not be meeting in person, the Campus Ministry Team, UKirk Leadership Council, and I have found a creative way to continue to feed students. We will buy Sunday lunch for students who RSVP by Friday of each week, and lunch might be sandwiches from the Cheese Shop, or gift cards to local restaurants so that we can help support the businesses in our downtown area. (If you would like to help contribute to this endeavor, please feel free to make a donation to WPC and in the memo line include “UKirk Lunches.”)

The Tough Challenges Yet to Come

The greatest struggle will be the ones our students face as they navigate the new semester. Right now, “A” and I are just waiting for the volcanoes of anxiety, fear, lack of control, and uncertainty to erupt. We cannot predict when it will happen, only that from our conversations with our students to date, the eruption is coming. It will not only be our UKirk students, but a multitude of William & Mary students, so we are preparing for an influx of students who are going to need the second home WPC is able to provide to them.

Perhaps you are wondering, “So what can we do as the church?”

Thank you so much for asking! “A” and I, as well as our Campus Ministry Team, cannot do this work alone. 

First, if you’re interested in helping to feed our students, please email Diane Schwarz for more information. (Contact the church office for contact info if you do not have access to the printed or online directory.)

Second, please read through Psalm 131 and try to place yourself in the shoes of a college student, keeping in mind the words they observed and shared. Why do you think the students might be having these thoughts and feelings? Are there additional ways in which you could imagine an 18–22-year old interpreting the scripture? How do you find yourself connecting with the college students through this psalm?

Finally, I ask for your prayers. Pray through Psalm 131. Pray for all of the new freshmen who are the guinea pigs, who want to have a “normal” college experience as they are still grieving the “normal” events they were supposed to have as graduating seniors. Pray for all transfer students and upperclassmen, who carry the tender mix of hope and guilt upon their return. Know that the UKirk students are especially fearful of causing anyone from WPC to contract the virus from them or someone they came into contact with. Finally, pray for myself and “A.” Oh fear not, we have game plans A-Z in place, but both of us are living the reality of collegiate ministry: always be on your toes because everything could change in the blink of an eye. That level of readiness requires endurance and patience, as well as presence and compassion for when things change, and then our own rest and processing as we guide students forward.

It is a new age of college ministry, but I could not imagine having a better partner in crime, team of congregants, and you as the WPC family here to move forward alongside us.


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