COVID on Campus: The Chaplain
I think back to the last policy meeting prior to the official announcement from Syracuse University that the campus would be going remote for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester. I didn’t know then how long it would last. I was hopeful that I would possibly see both my Le Moyne and SU students before the semester ended. Then, at some point, I realized that the semester had to come to a conclusion and students would not be returning. From there, I started thinking about what the Fall semester would like for us and how different it was going to look.
Several conversations were had with my chaplaincy colleagues and students on how things were going to be different for all of us. Trying to find culturally appropriate ways to engage in ministry in light of the pandemic was critical for me to do with my ministries. Deciding to focus heavily on social media and create content to share with students on Instagram and Facebook to keep them engaged. Even now, I’m still trying to learn and grow my understanding of social media as a chaplain. I really believe that amid this pandemic, even with an uncertain conclusion, I have a charge to really connect with students in a different way.
I’m going to be honest, the other side of it is, I missed fellowship. I miss seeing students in person and I will be the first to admit that remote virtual fellowship is not the same. I don’t think it feels the same. I don’t think it has necessarily the same impact. While I think it’s essential, and it’s beneficial, I think, when you talk about young men and women who are doing remote learning with professors, by the time they get to a weekly worship service, there’s some fatigue. And I think as chaplains, we face that going into anything, that we’re asking students to meet us in a virtual platform.
Outside of my Le Moyne and SU life, the pandemic gave me the chance to spend more time with my family. During my non-pandemic life, there will be two to four times a week where I’m not home, between ministering at Le Moyne and SU, but now I’m home more. I am spending more time with my son and my wife, who are also working from home, which has been good because they are some of my favorite people and some of the most entertaining people. So there’s a lot of opportunities for laughter in my house, which I love.
The pandemic certainly slows you down and causes you to take some introspection of who you are and where you’re at in life and with that, I decided to go back to school and I will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Leadership. It’s a program at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. It’ll be a combination of continuing in my profession of social work but also mixing it with some theology, some church, some community development. I currently minister to people who are in higher education. If I’m going to continue to minister to people who are highly educated, I have to continue to work on my own personal development in my own knowledge base. Leadership seemed like a great area of focus for myself and it’s always been a dream of mine to be Reverend Dr. Melvin Baker since childhood. When I was in third grade, I came in on my school’s career day, and said, “I want to be like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.” I have the reverend part but I haven’t obtained the doctorate part yet.
Although I have been able to make life-changing discoveries during this pandemic, I long for the days where it’ll be life without a mask. Being able to step outside and exchange oxygen without a mask in front of me is what I long for. But even more so, being able to hug people again. I’m a hugger. Just being able to embrace someone who I’ve missed, embrace someone who may need a hug or someone whom I might be their only hug for the week. I’m looking forward to those days again. I, of course, cannot wait for church again. I can’t wait for the energy of worship at my home church, Living Water Church of God in Christ, here in Syracuse. Being able to hear the band play, the choir sing, watch my pastor minister and see people come to the alter and sense God in that worship and fellowship experience, I look forward to it. I don’t know when it’s going to be but it’ll be special.
This as-told-to interview is part of COVID on Campus, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Fall 2020. COVID on Campus documents the experiences of students, staff, and faculty living through this extraordinary time.