For some individuals at Oklahoma Christian University, campus ministry is a fundamental aspect of the collegiate experience. Having a group of peers to worship with on and off campus can be one of the highlights of a student’s time at this university. And although this remains true, it’s not shocking that campus ministry faces additional challenges due to COVID-19. Edmond Church of Christ Campus Minister Evan Burkett, who has held the position for 17 years, described 2020 as the most difficult year in his career.
“2020 has absolutely been one of the most challenging years I’ve faced in campus ministry,” Burkett said. “This is because in addition to all of the things that everyone is facing with COVID, it seems like we are facing a crisis of community as well as a faith.”
Burkett’s statement was echoed by his fellow campus ministers. The greatest challenge COVID-19 has brought to them is a lack of connected and involved members. With several campus ministries operating at 30-50% capacity, it’s clear to Memorial Road Church of Christ Campus Minister Jay Mack, a six-year campus minister, that churches and campus ministries are entering a community crisis.
“It’s truly an unprecedented moment,” Mack said. “Everybody’s struggling. We’re all at different places but we’re all having to deal with things that are just new for everyone. Some people are handling it okay, some people are having a hard time. What we normally have is when I’m doing bad and you’re doing good, you’re able to carry me for a while. You’re able to encourage me. You’re able to lift me up. You’re able to point me in the right direction. And vice versa if you’re doing bad, I have the same opportunity to help you. But I think a lot of people are going solo right now. So there aren’t opportunities to pick anybody up and there aren’t opportunities to be picked up. And it’s that absence from community that is the most devastating thing.”
The Springs Church of Christ Campus Ministry Deacon Jared Scism, has been helping build the Springs Campus Ministry with his wife Cassie for the last four years. He emphasized the importance of community to campus ministry and the church as a whole.
“I do think students thrive on being with each other regardless [of the circumstances],” Scism said. “They need each other. … Community is such a big part of what everyone needs and who we are as believers. Regardless of what your situation is, you need community to thrive in your Christian faith. You can’t really do that without having other people there to walk with you through it. Forming connections with people is just as important now as it was before.”
To support this struggling community, campus ministers are doing all that is allowed by distance and coronavirus restrictions to build connections within their ministries. Over last semester and summer break this included small group Zoom calls, virtual book clubs and other online methods of communication. Now that school has started back up and most students are on campus, campus ministries have had to evolve the events they traditionally do, such as subbing Sunday morning church for Sunday night worship. However, the actual act of ministering to students has not shifted radically.
“All of the one-on-one and small group stuff we do with students feels totally normal,” Mack said. “The venue is a little different but it all feels the same. The micro-level of ministry doesn’t feel any different. It’s the macro-level stuff that’s different. All the smaller stuff feels completely normal.”
Although circumstances are more challenging, these campus ministers are strongly committed to ministering to their students, focusing on individual quality time and being there for them on a personal level.
“How I minister to students right now is by being empathetic,” Scism said. “A big part of it is knowing that this too shall pass and just hearing what [the students] are struggling with, their frustrations and anxieties. For me it’s actively listening as much as I can and being patient. This is a difficult situation for everyone.”
And as humanity waits out this pandemic, campus ministers are praying for their communities as well as the community of Oklahoma Christian University. They also want to encourage students who are attempting to balance surviving the coronavirus, thriving academically and living the Christian walk.
“Don’t give up,” Burkett said. “Stay the course, persist, endure. We’re in this together.”