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College preserves faith community during pandemic

| Friday, April 17, 2020

In a time when sitting side by side in church is a distant memory and standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer an anomaly, Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry has put together a plan to maintain its faith community in the midst of separation.

Liz Palmer, a 2013 alumna of the College, returned to campus last August as the assistant director of Campus Ministry. While her inaugural year in the position is drawing to a close under unprecedented circumstances, she said these challenges have provided an opportunity to develop creative initiatives to support the college community. 

“The staff of Campus Ministry continues to meet virtually once a week,” Palmer said. “This has been a way to share ideas and brainstorm. Personally, this has been a space where I have found a lot of support throughout the pandemic.”

Staying true to its fundamental mission of outreach, Palmer said Campus Ministry has developed a way to create more systems of support for students through communal devotions and faith development, including some that took place during Lent.

“During Holy Week we streamed the Stations of the Cross live from Instagram,” she said. “Each night we prayed the Stations from various sacred spaces on campus. We hoped that it would be a creative way to unite the community in prayer and bridge the distance. It was also a way that we could bring campus spaces that are so missed by our students to their homes through live streaming.” 

The Stations of the Cross were led each night by a different Campus Minister. Palmer said Sacred Heart Chapel in Holy Cross Hall, the cemetery of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Holy Spirit Chapel in Le Mans Hall were some of the locations where the services were held. In addition to bringing a nostalgic glimpse of campus to students, these events are also reinforcing bonds between students and facilitating personal interaction, albeit remotely, in an age of social distancing. 

“We have offered various weekly opportunities through Google Meet,” Palmer said. “I have been working with a student group called Fiat to host Monday evening prayer at 9 p.m. EST weekly. One senior plays the piano and sings worship songs from her home in Pittsburgh, Pa. She has been integral to the success of these virtual gatherings. I often then lead the group in prayer and reflection, and the students are able to share their thoughts in the chat.”

Bible study has proven to be another popular outlet for students to manage anxiety by meditating on readings that reflect the role of faith and hope in the midst of crisis, Palmer said.

“Regina Wilson, director of Campus Ministry, hosts Bible study once a week,” she said. “Last semester, the group had been focusing on the Book of Revelation. However, in this time of pandemic, they intended to lighten the mood by exploring what the Bible says about hope.” 

Palmer said she and her Campus Ministry team have been rewarded for their dedicated efforts by witnessing strong participation and support from students in the various virtual meetings.

“We have received a really strong response from students,” she said. “A memorable virtual meeting that we offered was a one-time coffee and conversation gathering with the senior class. The students who tuned in shared a myriad of thoughts and feelings. They expressed that they felt lighter and more hopeful after seeing some of their peers and staff members from Saint Mary’s.”

Looking ahead to when this crisis will be relegated to history, Palmer said she has already considered ways of implementing some of these activities as a way of re-envisioning and reinvigorating spiritual outreach. 

“While we are definitely living in trying times, our current reality has invited us to be innovative and creative,” she said. “This new way of virtual ministry has proven to be effective. I think that it will invite us to consider new ways to approach ministry even when we have all returned to campus post-pandemic.”

 

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