Texas A&M Students Connecting With Faith Communities Virtually
Texas A&M University religious groups are working to ensure that students can still participate in worship services while following social distancing guidelines. Through the Campus Ministries Association and its affiliated worship centers, students are able to connect for religious meetings and other events.
Like most other campus activities, in-person worship services have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But like the rest of the Texas A&M community, religious leaders have found innovative ways to continue offering pastoral care, guidance and comfort throughout the crisis.
Pastor Jerry Wirtley of Treehouse Ministries – located inside The Canterbury House, which is associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – said he is contacting students through several methods.
“We are interfacing with students by using GroupMe to communicate meetings times and things students need to know,” he said. “We are using Zoom for worship gatherings and Bible study. We also use Discord to just hang out, and we are trying to keep open lines of communication for students in other ways.”
Joel Bratcher of the Baptist Student Ministries (BSM) said he probably has 35 different groups within the BSM, including English classes for international students. Staff have been making personal phone calls to students in leadership positions, he said, and they are making efforts to identify students who live alone.
“We are trying to be sensitive to any needs they may have,” Bratcher said.
Hillel at Texas A&M is also serving Jewish students virtually. Hillel Executive Director Risa Bierman, who serves as executive director of Hillel at Texas A&M, said that a virtual community Seder is planned for the second night of Passover Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
The Reformed University Fellowship is also using virtual methods to communicate with students. Rev. William Bondurant said he’s using Zoom, Facetime and Marco Polo to meet with students to discuss theology and different books of the Bible they’re interested in.
Reformed University Fellowship’s ministry has always been done in person, he said, so the online interaction has been a significant change.
“It is frustrating to miss the personal connection. The electronic stuff is not a replacement for the real thing,” he said.
The Rev. Amy Klinkovsky, campus minister for United Campus Ministry in Aggieland, the campus ministry for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ, said she is also relying on Zoom, GroupMe and social media to connect with students.
“Additionally, our local church partners and national collegiate ministry offices are involving our students in their Holy Week online ministries where they are offering devotionals and special music,” she said.
Aaron Hull, director of the College Station Texas Institute of Religion, part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he has moved all of his classes online.
A Zoom format using virtual study materials is helping prepare students for weekly virtual gatherings, Hull said.
“We currently have around 130 students enrolled in our virtual classes,” Hull said. “The transition has been fairly smooth, and as the director, I work to train 26 other directors across the United States Southern Plains Region, who have responsibilities for the religious education of over 5,000 youth and young adults. We have also been using a platform called Canvas.”
Hull said he’s also made himself available to chat with students online or over the phone.
“I am confident that religious leaders in the Bryan/College Station community are doing their best to place materials online and provide virtual worship while following the guidelines provided by the governor,” said Megan Higginbotham of Texas A&M’s Division of Student Affairs.
She said that if students have questions about different local religious and spiritual offerings, they are welcome to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.