Fall 2020 Vital University Missions Report: "Stories Worth Sharing & Celebrating"
The Fall 2020 Semester is officially in full, socially-distanced swing for college students in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. Since Spring Break 2020, Chelsea Mueller, Valley Regional Coordinator, and I have sent over 300 handwritten cards to our students to connect with and pray for them during these COVID times. Now with students returning to classes, some in-person and some online, we are excited for the semester ahead and have lists of ideas that we would like to implement, when the timing is right and safe conditions are possible.
For now, the “start of a new school year” feels different for Vital University Missions, like so many other milestones this year. For the first August in ten years I was not covered in cotton candy fluff, dry ice from the paleta cart, or dripping sweat after standing outside to greet students, offer them a treat, and invite them to join our on-campus community. Even without the allure of cotton candy, Vital UM still met lots of students though, connecting with them using social media, new student retreats via Zoom, and even a little evangelism with our students inviting, welcoming, and connecting us with their friends and acquaintances.
Vital UM programs at both St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley campuses are entering their sixth week of online worship and programming. This year we are teaching a series called Visible Virtues, guided by Stanley Hauerwas' book The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson.
On Vital UM’s first week back, 25 students joined us on Instagram Live for Wednesday night online worship service, and 12 of them were new students. Twelve of them! These numbers match what we get when we are meeting in-person after attending every orientation event, passing out paletas, and being present on campus for lunch the day of our service. This participation proves the value of our summer social media efforts and shows the hard work and commitment of our volunteer student leadership. Each week, a different student would “take over” the Vital UM social media posts, and we had student leaders following freshman on social media to invite them to the online programming. We put in the work, laying the foundations for the fall during the long summer, and it paid off. That is an accomplishment worth sharing and celebrating!
I am so proud of our student leaders, for their willingness to get other students on board to share and their efforts to engage new students.
This semester we are also trying something new: adding a Zoom small group discussion component to our weekly gathering. Our first week, nine students logged on to this online fellowship opportunity, including a freshman student! When I asked them to share a highlight from their summer, the answers I got were deep, thoughtful, and reflective of their character as young adults. I’d like to share three of them with you now.
Ryan is a senior Theology and English major, and his summer highlight was being able to see his grandmother through the doorway of her nursing home. Before COVID-19 protocols, he would visit her every Sunday after mass, and even now is only able to do this because a family member is an administrator of the nursing home. With only occasional, limited visits along with phone calls, even so one of his summer highlights was being able to connect with her. He closed by thanking God for all the time that their family has been given with her.
Angela is a junior Marketing major, and she shared that working at her parent’s business was her summer highlight. She has worked there every summer, but this time it was different, and not because of the pandemic. This year, her parents entrusted her with managing the social media account, looking to her for advice to market their business. She said that her parents are starting to treat her like an adult, and it was a great feeling to help them in this particular way.
Claire is a freshman who just moved to campus in August. She shared that her highlight from the summer was spending time with her family. Because of the quarantine, her family shared dinner together every night, went on walks, and had meaningful conversations about things they would have never talked about if not for this time.
Many of us may have similar stories, from six months spent surrounded by our families or the people that we live with, unable to escape their company for better or for worse, but these moments are the highlights of our young people’s summer – connecting with a beloved grandmother from a safe distance; feeling respected by your parents as a trustworthy representative of the family business; spending quality time with family.
I am reminded that many of the young adults involved in Vital University Missions and their classmates are following the rules set forth to keep their loved ones safe. And, they value their families and time spent with them in ways that our culture has discounted, in favor of more sensational headlines. Their voices and experiences are so important to share, to counteract the terribly untrue idea that all young people are selfish, glued to their phones, and disconnected from their families. Our students have the virtues and insight to see this season as a highlight, a blessing, and even a special time. May we learn from them, to search for ways to see this season in a new way, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened.