For 10 months we’ve been encouraged to distance, isolate, quarantine. Cold words. Everything changed as we’ve lost our routines.
Nearly a year is a long time, said Pastor William Jensen of the Wittenberg Lutheran Center, who summed it up with, “It’s just hard.” He and other campus ministry leaders are finding ways to help students reconnect and ease the loneliness by drawing support from each other, and rebuilding hope in a return to normalcy.
The Campus Ministry Association and registered student organizations focused on faith and spirituality haven’t gone away. Instead they’re finding new ways to support spiritual health and well-being, including weekly services and programs, physically distanced dinners, and one-on-one counseling. The following is a sample of what’s being offered.
Wittenberg Lutheran Center
Services and programs: 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Bible study follows; 6:15 p.m. Wednesday chapel service, Bible study follows, 201 S. Main St., Normal
The Rev. William Jensen, or “Pastor Bill,” as he is known, has been with the Wittenberg Lutheran Center 20 years and is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the chapel this year. The Sunday service would normally attract about 25 students, but last fall, that dropped off because of the pandemic.
“As much now as ever, it’s needed because of this lengthy state of isolation,” he said of the need to connect with others.
Students can participate virtually. The pastor also gives the same sermon at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lexington on Sundays, and that service is broadcast on Facebook Live.
Services at Wittenberg are only offered when ISU is in session. Sunday worship has resumed for the spring semester.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We have plenty of room to spread out. We follow all the protocols.”
Wittenberg also has an outreach program for international students. Pre-pandemic the center hosted International Neighbors night, a monthly dinner. Since that’s temporarily suspended, Wittenberg is supplying food to the School Street Food Pantry.
Jensen recognizes this is a challenging time for everyone, and wants students to know he’s also available if someone just wants to talk. Call (217) 836-9305, email WittenbergLCMS@gmail.com, or visit Wittenberg on Facebook.
Meetings: Shabbat dinner, 7 p.m. Fridays, and noon Sunday Brunch at 214 S. Linden St., Normal. Other events at 8 p.m. during the week at 214 S. Linden St., or via Zoom.
Led by Rabbi Chaim and Rochel Telsner, Chabad serves as a home away from home for Jewish students at Illinois State.
“Whatever it means to be there for the Jewish students on campus, that’s what we do,” Rochel Telsner said. “We’re their family.”
Chabad found ways to come together despite the COVID-19 pandemic, such as socially distanced weekly Shabbat dinners outdoors, which require a COVID-19 symptom check-in, a to-go Sunday brunch, and virtual Jewish study sessions.
“Our goal is to give students options to participate so they feel comfortable and safe,” said sophomore Chabad executive board member Gaby Goldman.
Chabad fosters a sense of community during these difficult times and is always accepting new members.
“We encourage new students that it’s OKto come on their own to events, and they’ll never be alone,” said senior Chabad executive board member Jessica Rubinstein.
The Impact Movement
Meetings: Bi-weekly, all-group meetings at 8 p.m. Mondays via Facebook and Instagram live. Women’s small group Bible study at 5:30 p.m. Thursdays via Zoom. Men’s small group Bible study at 7 p.m. Wednesdays via Zoom.
The Impact Movement allows Black students to practice their faith and build a sense of community at Illinois State. Anna Ruffin ’15 became involved with Impact as an undergraduate student and now works with the campus ministry.
“Impact provides a safe space for Black students to grow in their faith and become closer with Jesus as they engage with each other,” she said.
Impact held a socially distanced, masked fall retreat, in addition to group sessions over Zoom last semester. They hope to have in-person meetings following COVID-19 guidelines this spring.
“Given the year the Black community has had with racial injustice and unrest, it’s been our heart and desire to pursue Black students in a holistic way,” said Ruffin. “We’re not just concerned with their spiritual well-being, but their emotional, mental, and financial well-being too.”
Meetings: Scatter nights, 8 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Mondays at varying locations. Gather nights, 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays at the campus house, 300 Normal Ave., Normal.
A campus ministry of about 200 members, Encounter provides a community for college students at Illinois State, Illinois Wesleyan, and Heartland Community College. Encounter has found creative ways for their members to safely join together and practice their faith during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of COVID, we’re doing small groups called Scatter-Gather nights on Mondays and Tuesdays,” said Illinois State senior and Encounter President Sydney Ochodnicky. “On Scatter nights you do a Bible study with your small group, and on Gather nights three or four groups at a time will have a mini, socially distanced service at the campus house.”
Masks and social distancing are implemented for the in-person sessions, and there is also an option for students to meet over Zoom.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
Meetings: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Bone Student Center/Zoom
Tyler Ross knows how important connections are to college students, especially during a pandemic. He adapted InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s weekly program to a hybrid in-person/Zoom session.
“It’s just a really depressing season for a lot of students,” he said. “I hope campus organizations and faith organizations can be an outlet.”
You don’t have to be part of a faith community to participate. Ross described it as “a community sharing our thoughts and helping each other, exploring faith together through conversation.”
Last semester they explored ethnic identity and racism. Other topics have included finances and prayer. This semester they will focus on a series called “Beyond Colorblind.”
“We’re going to talk about individual and communal ethnic stories, how God created race and ethnicity and created us all uniquely with beauty and how that ends up becoming broken by some of the systems in the world,” he said.
St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center
Bible study 6 p.m. Thursday; Mass at noon and 5 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 501 S. Main St., Normal
Masses are held in the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center, following COVID-19 protocols, with services also live-streamed on Facebook.
Last semester, the center had Friday socials outdoors around fire pits until the weather got too cold and they were moved inside. When the weather warms up, they’ll be back outdoors. Students watch movies and play games such as charades.
“It’s obviously very different from what our normal social looks like but the most important thing is we’re keeping everybody safe,” said Karen Meany, campus minister.
On Wednesdays, students may visit during the Eucharistic Adoration hour. On Thursdays Bible study is offered on Zoom. The center is open daily for students.
“We are open to all,” she said. “If someone is wanting to learn more or just come and pray because the church is open, they are welcome.”
Explore more opportunities to get involved at RedbirdLife.IllinoisState.edu.