Chaplaincy in a time of Uncertainty

If I could describe the Covid-19 pandemic in one word, I would pick “uncertainty.” We receive new information about the number of cases, how the virus is spreading, how we should be acting and more on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis, making it feel like I don’t have solid ground to stand on. Working in higher education, chaplains have been tasked with quickly finding new ways to support and serve our student, faculty and staff communities. While some of the work we are doing is converting our existing programming and resources to be accessible online, we are also rethinking about new needs and resources that are emerging among this pandemic. The biggest need we continually circle back to is connection. 

As a chaplain, I am constantly trying to figure out what my role is and how I can best support my communities, friends and family. It can quickly become overwhelming, until I take a step back and remind myself of why I am doing this work. It is best described by author, Kerry Egan in her book, On Living:

“We’re story holders. We listen to the stories that people believe have shaped their lives… [A chaplain] might ask questions you would never have considered, or help you remember other times you survived something hard and other ways you made sense of what seemed senseless. She can reframe the story and can offer a different interpretation to consider, accept or reject. She can remind you of the larger story of your life or the wisdom of your faith tradition. She can hold open a space of prayer or meditation or reflection when you don’t have the energy or strength to keep the walls from collapsing.” 

Stories are filled with so much history, emotion, relationships and meaning. I have the privilege of being invited into these sacred and mundane, joyous and sorrowful, clear and confusing moments of peoples’ lives. As they share their stories, I am given a glimpse into the bigger picture of the lives that sit across from me. 

At the core of these stories are the relationships, the ones that I am hearing about and the one that I have with the storyteller. In these times of physical distancing, we are faced with the question of how we cultivate these relationships through technology. While there are amazing tools for us to continue these relationships and build communities, it’s not the same. We can grieve the loss of these physical connections, being together and the many other challenges that people are facing at this time, while at the same time remembering the stories of courage, resilience and hope. These are the stories that hold us together and as Egan describes, remind us of what’s within that hold us together in these times of uncertainty. The means of communication may change, but the stories remain. 

These past few weeks my work has felt distant from these stories and relationships. Much of my time has been on the back end of our website developing new content, helping our team of religious advisors prepare to host virtual office hours and thinking of new ways to support students and staff in this unprecedented time. While much of it has been routine admin work, I am reminded that all of it is in efforts to create spaces for relationships to continue and stories to be told. We have developed a number of resources on our website for students to access at any time and live open office hours where students can come in and check in with one of our team members or have company while they work. 

Many times, a check in with a student starts off casual, talking about the weather and how they are “adjusting to this life.” We talk about what they have been doing in the recent weeks and maybe something new they have tried. After a few more minutes, I start to hear a bit more of the challenge, grief, confusion and sadness they are feeling. I am hearing things like:

“It’s hard to concentrate on classes when I have been on the computer all day.” “I’m worried about my family in another state who are also taking care of elder family members. I decided not to go home because I don't want to risk exposing my family.” “I am lonely at home and not sure who to turn to, I'm tired of being on Zoom calls.” “I’m upset about graduation being canceled. I feel like I am not getting the closure I wanted for this chapter of my life.”

All these feelings are natural, real and current.  Even if they feel like they cannot exist simultaneously, I assure them. This is an unprecedented time; our whole lives have been turned upside down, and our bodies are in survival mode. 

As Egan writes, we all have stories from our past that remind us of how we overcame challenges and of tools that may help us manage our present. It is okay to feel all of this, in fact it allows us to move through it and not sit stagnant within us. As I continue to find ways to connect with students and hear their stories, I want to remind them, and myself, that all of the stories we have, whether they feel big or small, are important in how we create the narrative of our lives.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Theodore Parker, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Let’s bend it together.
In both my work as an interfaith leader and a dancer, rethinking is all about opening our minds, asking questions, and having conversations.
Some U.S. churches have been reckoning with this activity for years through ceremonies, apologies and archival investigations, while others are just getting started.
A global study of the communication patterns of 1.3 million workers during the global lockdown showed the average workday increased by 8.2% during the pandemic, and the average number of virtual meetings per person expanded by almost 13%.
Across Missouri, hundreds of pastors, priests and other church leaders are reaching out to urge vaccinations in a state under siege from the delta variant. Health experts say the spread is due largely to low vaccination rates — Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.
The solution, said Chris Palusky, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, is “the loving care of a family, not another orphanage.” He pointed to Scripture passages that say God sets the lonely in families and call on Christians to care for those who have been orphaned.
The following interview features Debra Fraser-Howze, founder and president of Choose Healthy Life, an initiative that fortifies community infrastructure to better address the pandemic in Black communities. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The seven monks have been clearing brush from around the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and running a sprinkler system dubbed “Dharma rain,” which helps keep a layer of moister around the buildings.
Over 800 Muslim Americans are expected to attend the family-focused event at the Green Meadows Petting Farm in Ijamsville, Maryland, making it one of the larger such gatherings around the country in the era of COVID-19.
Besides demanding equitable distribution of vaccines, the Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically.
Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and giving meat to the needy.
Our Lady of La Vang is said to have appeared in a remote rainforest in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Yet the debate about the vaccine in Tennessee is not solely a debate about science. Rather, I believe the vaccine debate is also a referendum on our public capacity to embrace vulnerability.
The study found that while there are many promising signs that students perceive support for their RSSIs on campus, there is also considerable room for improving welcome, particularly for students whose RSSIs are a minority.
Coronavirus deaths among clergy are not just a Catholic problem, said Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, with faith leaders across denominations having elevated exposure rates as “spiritual front-line workers” ministering to the sick and dying in hospitals and nursing homes.
Legislation legalizing human composting has encountered religious resistance from the Catholic Church.
From the 26th of November, 2020, a farmers protest has been in existence on the outskirts of Delhi, India’s capital city. For the past eight months, farmers in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, have been fighting three laws that threaten the future of agriculture in the country.
Sivan and I feel that it is crucial to work for increased vaccination rates, particularly with more transmissible and potentially more deadly variants emerging across the country and throughout the world.
We made calls to friends, disseminated flyers, engaged in social media marketing, partnered with faith-based communities, and engaged the local health department to encourage members of our community to come to our upcoming clinic and get vaccinated.
"It’s not about accepting other’s beliefs and pushing your own away - it is about being respectful, while still having the freedom to express your beliefs"

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.