Photo by Elizabeth O’Guin
By Vanessa Willis, Staff Writer—
COVID-19 has pressed nearly every group on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus to make changes to their usual operations to ensure the safety of students, and religious organizations are no exception.
With more than 15 campus ministries, religious groups make up a significant portion of the social organizations at UTC.
Under normal circumstances, most church-based groups meet in person for worship, and then hold other smaller social meetings throughout the week. Due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, this is no longer the case for many of the organizations.
Alli Swinford, the College Ministry Coordinator Apprentice for Brainerd Baptist Church, explained how Brainerd Baptist ensures that students stay safe.
“Everyone is required to wear masks, including the people serving,” Swinford said. “We ask all students to be mindful of social distancing, meaning we discourage the gathering of more than 10 people together at a time.”
Brainerd Baptist holds a weekly college worship service titled The Rec. This group meets off campus, but has found a way to safely meet without sacrificing in-person interaction. Their weekly meeting is socially distanced, with small clusters of chairs stationed around the room six feet apart. These small meetings, called life groups, take place in the Brainerd Baptist Church parking lot.
The choice to meet in-person, even while adhering to safe social distancing protocol, brings with it unique challenges.
“We love our people, so when we were finally able to gather together again it was hard to not hug,” Swinford explained. “However, we know that we are protecting each other as we stay safe, so we have resulted to a nice elbow tap followed by hand sanitizer.”
In addition to social distancing, technology also makes it possible for groups to connect without the concerns of in-person interaction. Many groups have found Zoom useful for holding their worship meetings. The House, a ministry located on McCallie Avenue, has been holding their weekly meetings on Zoom.
Jason Leonard, the director of The House, says that Zoom has been an effective and positive addition to their usual operations.
“Of course we miss gathering, but it’s been great to see people join us from their living rooms and dorm rooms, and Zoom has provided an amazing way to facilitate discussion and prayer around topics of faith.” Leonard said.
In addition to their weekly Zoom meeting, The House has found several unique ways to engage with students and create a sense of community on campus during a pandemic. They have different clubs that meet throughout the week in safe, socially distanced environments. Some of these include the running club, hiking club, organized games of pick-up basketball and outdoor movie nights every Friday.
Leonard believes that, despite the challenges everyone has faced over the past several months, this is a valuable time to learn.
“This is obviously a very difficult season for everyone and yet, in the midst of it, there is an incredible opportunity to grow in new ways and practice new habits,” Leonard said. “It’s time to mess with some of the norms we embodied before this pandemic hit.”
For more information about these, and other campus ministries, see their page on UTC’s website.