In a time where social gatherings are restricted and social distancing reigns supreme, it may be surprising that a local church, the Edmond Church of Christ, had their winter campus ministry retreat this past weekend. 50 college students, most of whom attend Oklahoma Christian University, and their campus minister trekked out to spend two days together at Camp Rock Creek in Norman, Oklahoma. While some may see this as a massive risk, Jeremy Alexander, biochem senior and four year veteran of the Edmond Campus Ministry, states that it was a low risk, high reward scenario for him.
“I do think it was a risk worth taking because we worked to minimize the risk,” Alexander said. “If you look at the other impacts the pandemic has made, a lot of mental health issues have intensified. It was a great time for people to be around each other and be out of the stressful environment that school can be.”
In terms of minimizing risk, there were rules in place in order to decrease any potential spread of COVID-19. Evan Burkett, Edmond’s campus minister, was clear that not just anyone could join in on retreat.
“We asked everyone to get tested within 72 hours of the retreat and show us the negative test result in order to come and participate,” Burkett said. “We followed the Oklahoma Christian guidelines regarding mask wearing and we had people carpool with people who are in their current circle of friends. We also had students in multiple cabins so they could spread out.”
Alexander added to the standards regarding testing and also expanded on what mask wearing looked like while at Edmond Campus Ministry retreat.
“You could also prove that you had recovered from COVID within the last 90 days to insure that you weren’t coming in with an active case of COVID-19,” Alexander said. “Masks were worn at all times except for at meals, and that was just while you were eating. After you were done you put your mask back on. Only occasionally when people were walking outside and not near someone, they would be able to take their mask off.”
Alexander also states that in spite of the COVID fatigue students may be feeling, mask wearing was practiced with dedication.
“For the most part, people were vigilant,” Alexander said. “There was a little bit of reminding others, ‘Hey, you should put your mask on. You should cover your nose,’ just the standard stuff that we all have to do to remember.”
Burkett also testified to the importance of having a retreat, especially during such a challenging time in history and student’s lives.
“One of the things that we are managing currently is how much social interaction weighs against risks that we face during this pandemic,” Burkett said. “A retreat for college students, especially at the beginning of the semester, is significant to their lives and for those connections that we all need. By its nature it allows students to get away from their normal routine to think about things that are truly important to reflect on like where they’ve been, where they’re going and for us to grow closer together as a community.”
Alexander also claimed that not only does he believe that the campus ministry retreat impacts the college students who attended, but it’s also encouraging to the Edmond congregation as a whole.
“Retreat is also a good thing because it encourages involvement in church at a time where involvement has been pretty low,” Alexander said. “It’s easier to roll out of bed right when worship starts than it is to go to church. There’s been decreased church attendance, so having something where people can worship and be around each other in a safe way is really encouraging for people.”
Both Burkett and Alexander emphasized the importance of community in order to fight back against the negative mental and emotional effects of living through a pandemic. Alexander concluded by stating that the impacts of the Edmond Campus Ministry retreat have been positive, allowing him to form community and destress from a crazy 2020 and an already wild semester.
“I think that retreat gave me a needed break and time to not stress out about things,” Alexander said. “It also allowed me to talk to people who I haven’t gotten to meet yet and those who I know but haven’t gotten to catch up with. It was a really good social time and the message and time in prayer were both good and very needed.”