The Hill From A Distance: Virtual college ministry
This post is part of a blog series called The Hill From A Distance that highlights how the St. Olaf community is moving forward together, even when we’re apart. The series features messages from a variety of campus leaders— and this week College Pastor Matt Marohl and Associate College Pastor Katie Fick share how campus ministry has continued in a virtual world.
Boe Memorial Chapel is never empty, and we like it that way. Boe is a place of worship. It is a concert hall. It is rehearsal space. It is the site of public lectures. With our offices in the chapel, we are constantly surrounded by students studying and the beautiful sound of the organ. Boe Chapel is always full of life.
As with every other department on campus, everything changed just before spring break. Most students left campus, and the ones who remained began the process of physical distancing. The chapel became quiet. There was and still is grieving over this change. With that said, it is the spiritual lives of the students, faculty, and staff of St. Olaf that have always been the focus of College Ministry programming. Boe Chapel is amazing, but is a place — and ministry happens between people.
As soon as we moved all of our plants and some of our books home, we partnered with St. Olaf Broadcast Media to start planning virtual chapel. Sure, Holy Week and Easter would look different. Of course daily chapel would not be the same. But our virtual chapel experience would be no less meaningful, no less lively, no less spirit-filled. We recorded in our homes. Cantor to the Student Congregation James Bobb recorded hymns in his living room and outside. Students sent in videos of themselves reading and speaking. It is truly amazing what a phone, some enthusiasm, and strong partners can do. We worshipped with joy and grace.
It is truly amazing what a phone, some enthusiasm, and strong partners can do. We worshipped with joy and grace.
Zoom became the platform of choice for the rest of our College Ministry offerings. We met with students, offering pastoral care. We talked about COVID-19, but we also talked about life and vocation and heartache and love. We continued to meet for Bible Study and every Wednesday night we would “Gather.” Gather is a time for fellowship and devotion. We had been meeting in the Undercroft (the lower level of Boe), but the transition to virtual meetings was seamless. Students would sit in their bedrooms or basement or deck and we would laugh and talk and pray.
The 2019–20 academic year was an exciting one for the College Ministry Office. This was the first time in the history of St. Olaf that we were a multi-religious staff. With the addition of Rabbi Shosh Dworsky, Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life, and Iman Jafri, Associate Chaplain for Muslim Life, we were better able to serve the college community. Over the past three months, Rabbi Shosh has offered Hebrew and Basic Judaism courses online. In addition, she has stayed in contact with our Jewish students and offered several thoughtful devotions. Iman has also stayed connected with students and helped to coordinate the observance of Ramadan for Muslim students. Rabbi Shosh and Chaplain Iman, together with the two of us, also partnered with the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community to offer a virtual Student Interreligious Council.
We are still not back in Boe Chapel, but we continue to be fully engaged in the spiritual life of the college.
We are still not back in Boe Chapel, but we continue to be fully engaged in the spiritual life of the college. We “Gathered” on Wednesday, June 3, around the topic of the death of George Floyd. We have stayed in contact with students through Zoom, and many discussions have involved race and racism. We recorded short videos for the college community expressing our care and support during this time of national lament and protest. And for the first time, we are offering summer chapel. There is no better time to continue to worship together than now. So, we worship every Wednesday at 10:10 a.m. (from now through August 5). Our theme is Resilience and The Bible.
We do long to be back on the hill. We are eager for the routine of college life to bring energy to Boe Chapel. But we can say without hesitation that ministry is not tied to a building, it occurs between God and God’s people wherever they may be.
— Pastor Matt and Pastor Katie