Each year, the Willis D. Weatherford Jr. Campus Christian Center (CCC) trains its student chaplains to serve the student body. Typically, this in-person, on-campus training prepares them to navigate their chaplain work positions and teaches them to build healthy relationships with students who represent a wide variety of backgrounds and needs.
“They are peer counselors, spiritual guides, emotional empathizers, Bible-study leaders, grief supporters, selfless servers, worship creators, social-justice activists, residence-hall staff team members—and they also are college students, exceptional college students,” said Rev. Jake Hofmeister, one of Berea’s chaplains.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced student-chaplain training to an online platform, and the chaplains were concerned about the limitations of a virtual-only environment. They reinvented many aspects of training, and the student chaplain leadership team created content and invented creative solutions to suit the new virtual reality.
During the summer training, the 14 student chaplains and CCC staff discussed how difficult times facing the country and campus could generate complexities and fear, but it also could serve as an opportunity. Thriving and serving even in a time of multiple crises becomes possible only through supporting one another to rise to the occasion. And rise they did, Hofmeister said.
“During a time when a worldwide pandemic is deeply affecting so many of us, during a time when racial injustice is so clear and so egregious, during a time when millions are suffering economically, our student chaplains spent 10 to 12 hours each day training and learning how to support the Berea College student body—their peers and classmates,” Hofmeister said. “During a time when it is so easy to be concerned about one’s self and one’s own anxiety and hardships, these students were engaged, passionate and selflessly focused on how to be there for others.”