By Joseph Nelson
Like every other area of our lives, the life of the staff and students at Universities has been dramatically altered by the reality of Covid-19. My name is Joseph Nelson, I am a member of staff for the Universities Chaplaincy in Leeds and for the Lutheran Church in Great Britain. However, I am also a Master’s by Research student.
For students, the changes are very palpable. From things as simple as getting books out of the library to finding study spaces on campus and attendings lectures; all of this has become increasingly complicated. Where once I would have gone into university an hour or two before a lecture, had a coffee in the chaplaincy, maybe gone into the chapel for prayer, done some reading in a study room or had a wander into the library to see what new books or journal articles I could find relating to my topic… now if I am lucky enough to have a lecture in person, I must arrive only a few minutes before it starts and then leave again. For me, as for many other students, this is a massive shift and has shaken away many of the things that really enriched our lives and studies. Being a student, more than ever before, has become a very isolating experience and one lacking in the social, spiritual, and cultural benefits of university life. This is a tragic loss and one that also has a dramatic effect on the effectiveness of chaplaincy.
On the other hand, as a member of staff in the chaplaincy everything has also changed. Much of my role previously had been going out onto campus and chatting with students, developing relationships, and signposting students to different avenues of support within the chaplaincy and beyond. Now with the pandemic my role has become very much about social media and trying to reach out to students virtually. This has been incredibly difficult and at times my enthusiasm has been dampened as much of my work has not been rewarding in the same way as it once was. I am lacking the enriching interactions that I once had with my role. Staff are feeling the hardship of this pandemic just as much as students are. This is especially poignant when we consider that we are not reaching as many students and staff as before and can very often feel powerless in the face of everything that is happening around us.
University life has been dramatically altered for both staff and student alike during this pandemic. However, at the end of the day the work of chaplaincy really remains the same. Chaplaincy is about recognising and meeting the spiritual, psychological, and physical needs of those in our care through the love of Jesus. Our work remains as always to give hope to the hopeless, comfort to the grieving and light to those who dwell in darkness. There is hope, and our job in this time, more than ever, is to simply be there, to be a visible witness to the God of love.