It can be depressing at times,” says Amber Tremblett, an M.Div. student in her last year at Wycliffe College in Toronto, where she has lived in residence since the beginning of her program. COVID has made life very different for her and her fellow students.
To minimize health risks, Wycliffe started a pod system. “I have four others in my pod,” Tremblett says. “We eat our meals together and study. We’ve had a few movie nights. It’s just so different.”
Kilen Gray, dean of community life at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says the current moment is “a context of extended anxiety.” The seminary has provided financial assistance and rent relief for some students affected by COVID-19, and they are paying close attention to the mental and spiritual health of students.
On the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary, a large tent — affectionately nicknamed the “revival tent” — has been erected, with ample seating, speakers, screens, and lots of fresh air so students can be together, safely, and not feel so alone. Jeff Sajdak, Calvin’s dean of students, says the weekly meetings of formation groups now begin with “How are you doing?” In the spring, he reports, conversations focused on the immediate crisis, but now, the tenor has changed to “We’ve gotten this far, but how are we doing spiritually and emotionally?” The seminary is also making regular counseling services even more accessible.
At Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Monique Verhoef, associate vice president for student life, reports that their hybrid model has made a big difference. The gratitude students feel for being able to attend classes in person is palpable. “We’re balancing risk with reality,” Verhoef says. “The reality is this could go on for a long time, and the reality is that people need each other, and that doesn’t change. I would say the students are feeling gratitude and a sense of mutual responsibility to love their neighbors and do the right thing by doing what is asked of them.”
That’s what Kilen Gray at Louisville is also seeing. “We have persons who are in the helping spirit,” he says. “Students are finding ways to help one another. It’s the seminary way.”
lllustration by Francesco Ciccolella