We’ve made it through the craziest season of the craziest year that I can ever remember in college ministry! Our church has run the gauntlet from our annual summer leadership retreats, through the KSU Kick-Off and the University’s first month of classes, to our Fall Retreat.
The week after Fall Retreat is usually a point of reflection, even in normal years (without COVID-19). But this year, it feels even more significant to look back. Things are a lot different this year! But different isn’t all bad.
It’s actually kind of fun to glance through pictures of “Then” and “Now.” Not just for the sake of nostalgia or pining for a return to “normal ministry.” I’m legitimately amazed to see that we’ve been figuring things out as we go!
I’d say the hardest part about doing ministry in 2020 has been making connections with new students. Most years, they simply swarm the campus. It’s almost like taking a fishing pole to a fish hatchery, with thousands of hungry fish in a relatively small holding pool.
This year, University events are almost all virtual. H2O is one of the few organizations that’s even trying (however awkwardly) to maintain some semblance of connecting in real life. But even with this commitment to face-to-face interactions (with precautions), we have to augment some things to include on-line interaction. And thankfully we’re figuring that out, too.
I hope that we’ll never again take things for granted like the University’s Destination Kent State and Blast-Off initiatives. They’re fun. They’re fruitful. And they make for great photo opportunities!
Even without all the special events full of sights, sounds, handshakes, and hugs, we have succeeded in making new connections. I wish there were more new connections, and I wish they weren’t made so challenging with the masks and the six feet of separation between us. Still, I’m grateful for what we have.
These pictures all reinforce the general feeling that I’ve had throughout most of the semester: Kent is way quieter than usual in 2020.
I think I’ll always remember the surreal sensation of walking around on campus during the morning of the University’s first day of classes. The sidewalks are usually more crowded than any other time of the year, since almost no one skips the first day of a new class. But not in 2020.
I walked around with my friend and colleague, Lauren, trying to find students who might be hanging out between classes — but the sidewalks were almost completely empty. The parking lots were maybe a quarter full. It was eerie.
That night we hosted our “H2O Preview” event, trying to give new students some easy inroads for involvement plus a glimpse of what our Sunday worship gatherings feel like. Back “then” it was a big production in a big theater at the center of the Kent State University campus.
In the here and “now,” however, we’ve got seven different regions of Life Groups meeting outdoors. They all end up feeling pretty quiet and low-key, if you ask me, but students are surprisingly excited to have any opportunity for real-life interaction.
Our Sunday morning worship gatherings follow a similar pattern. Seven different Snapshots (testimonies)… seven different (non-musical) worship sets… seven different teachers… All outdoors (or online, in a couple of cases), spaced out with COVID precautions.
It’s been a challenge, but our Staff and student-leaders have risen to that challenge. I’m really, really proud of our people.
Week to week, we’re still studying the Bible (the Book of Acts, specifically) in Life Groups, but they’re all ten people or less, and they’re all outside.
We might start experimenting with some generously-spaced indoor meetings for Life Groups in the coming weeks, as the temperatures get colder. Fortunately, activities on-campus are so limited that we should be able to get space in the Student Center far more easily than usual. But we’ll see how that goes.
Up to this point, the only event we’ve been organizing that meets indoors — more or less in the same location we’ve used in previous years — is The Well (our seven-week informal membership class).
This year for The Well, students are divided into “Tables” for discussion — like they usually are — but there are no actual tables (just chairs spaced generously in a wide circle), and each group has its own room. The teacher joins in by video conference from an adjacent room. It’s a bit weird, but surprisingly workable. We’re delighted to have about 20 new students going through The Well this Fall.
We’re even venturing to organize Fall Retreats this year. Seven different versions of Fall Retreat, in fact! I do definitely miss some of the ways that we’ve operated in the past for these things, but I also wonder if there will be ways that we will look back on this year with fondness in years to come.
The differences are hard to deny. Still, I see similarities between “Then” and “Now” as well. And I have hope that we’re going to keep improvising and persevering until the future “Then” when COVID-19 will be a memory and a bunch of weird photographs.