“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”
It was the week of Ash Wednesday in 2020 that Trinity, along with the rest of Capital University, pivoted to remote instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic. Who could have anticipated then that we would be beginning Lent in 2021 still under the shadow of COVID-19?!
So what is seminary life like during a pandemic?
Let me give you a glimpse behind the scenes of worship.
Last fall, we were able to worship in Gloria Dei for most of the semester – with enough chairs removed so that we were seated six feet apart and with Holy Communion served by presiding and assisting ministers wearing hospital gloves. Masked cantors sang, filling the space – and our hearts – with the music of the faith while the congregation refrained from singing.
This semester, with the appearance of new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, we are back to worshiping remotely. At times that means a handful of worship leaders gathering to lead worship in Gloria Dei, while one of our student sacristans ensures that the service is livestreamed on Facebook for the community. At other times, worship leaders coordinate and lead the various components of worship via Zoom from their own homes. Bonus: “snow days” don’t mean that worship is cancelled, since we have learned how to worship together when we are not physically on campus.
Perhaps the strangest thing for me is realizing that the cohort of students who go out on internship this summer will do so after having almost their entire Learning in Context (field work) experience remote. What began as a short-term response to an immediate health crisis has become the standard operating procedure for the time being.
Are these students less prepared than previous cohorts? No, but they are certainly differently prepared. These are the students who also experienced CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) remotely last summer. And they join the interns who were sent out into the pandemic last summer, as well as the 2020 graduates who started their first calls under pandemic circumstances.
Perhaps this generation of students will never say, “We didn’t learn that in seminary” – because what they’ve learned is that things can change in an instant and that ministry must always respond to context.
The imposition of ashes, with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” is a reminder of our mortality, of the fragility of human life. For the last year, we’ve been surrounded by constant reminders of our mortality. The work of the Church is to remind us that even in the midst of death, God promises new life!
The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.