Since I’ve served as a Berea College Chaplain for a little over two years, one thing has stood out to me that is very different here than at other higher education institutions – how selfless, passionate, hard-working, resilient, and all-around amazing our students are. I’m not hyperbolizing here, our students are exceptional. And thank-goodness we have exceptional students (and of course, the faculty, staff, and administration are great, too), because these are exceptional times.
I enjoy the privilege of working with fourteen Student Chaplains this year, along with Rev. Dr. LeSette Wright, as their labor supervisor (and a shout out to the Dean of the Chapel, Rev. Dr. Loretta Reynolds, for developing this program over the past two decades). These students through this program, which is cutting edge and largely unparalleled throughout the country in the arena of chaplaincy, support the spiritual and religious lives of our students on campus and beyond in a myriad of ways. 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 are also college students, exceptional college students.
Rev. LeSette and I just finished our student chaplain training with the team, a training that looked very different this year due to the pandemic, requiring it to be facilitated on a virtual platform. Of course, there was a concern about getting our student chaplains ready to serve this year due to the limitations of the virtual platform and the need to reinvent many aspects of training. However, our student chaplain leadership team worked tirelessly in preparation for training: creating content and inventing creative solutions to the new virtual reality.
And the training turned out to be an enormous success! During a time when a worldwide pandemic is deeply affecting so many of us, during a time when racist injustice is so clear and so egregious, during a time when millions are suffering economically, our student chaplains spent ten to twelve hours each day, training and learning how to support the Berea College student body, their peers and classmates. 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.
We discussed that while this very difficult time has created so many complexities and much fear, it is also an opportunity to excel in supporting each other and rising to the occasion of living into the Berea College community that God has called us to be. And the student chaplains are rising to the occasion!
They are courageous: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NRSV).
They serve others, seeing the image of God and Jesus Christ in each one of us: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25: 35, 36, 40b, NRSV).
Indeed, our exceptional students are rising to the challenge of these exceptional times. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jake Hofmeister, D.Min.