A number of FCJ Sisters work in chaplaincies at various levels of student life. Here two of them living in England tell us how they have creatively adapted their ministries and continue serving students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sr Anouska is university chaplain at the Archdiocese of Southwark serving at Goldsmiths and London South Bank Universities. She writes:
I was lucky enough to have a few days transition before the lockdown set in so I managed to gather the students to do a prayer of thanksgiving and sending forth. It gave us time to say goodbye, quicker than we had thought but with some kind of ritual. In the early days of the lockdown, I focused on updating the Chaplaincy website so that there were links to prayer resources, Masses and the space to leave prayer intentions if people wished. In the weeks following I have kept in touch with the students via Whatsapp and launched a Retreat in Daily Life that began on Easter Tuesday and will end on the Tuesday after Pentecost. I meet the participants for direction once a week via Zoom. Some of my students managed to get home whilst others haven’t so are isolated in London, thereby having different needs at this time. Supporting them as their teaching and learning moved online has also been part of my ministry at this time.
We have moved the Bible Study at LSBU online and opened it up to students at both universities. In addition, the Chaplaincy Lunch based at St Hilda’s Catholic Chaplaincy House for Goldsmiths staff and students has continued, though naturally without real food being provided, the uptake has not been as popular. In response to Pope Francis’ invitation to pray the rosary daily in May, I am livestreaming the rosary on Facebook Live each morning, through St. Hilda’s Catholic Chaplaincy House facebook page. This has appealed to some staff and students too.
I have enjoyed finding other ways of connecting. I am hoping to have the opportunity to watch a Mass livestreamed through YouTube in a Zoom meeting so those who are isolated get the chance of worshipping together. With Sunday Mass now livestreamed from St George’s Cathedral, this would be a good opportunity.
With all the virtual events it has been a process of trial by error. I keep in mind that for many of the students technology is not so easily available when they are off campus, and that they too may have families of their own as well as be working to make ends meet in some of the frontline jobs.
Whilst technology may make things easier to some degrees, fundamentally chaplaincy is about relationship, and so I am working to maintain relationships through a variety of experiences.
Follow Anouska’s chaplaincy work at St Hilda’s Catholic Chaplaincy House facebook page.
Sr Els fcJ is a chaplain at an FCJ secondary school, Upton Hall School FCJ in the Wirral, England. She writes:
School has mostly gone online with teachers setting work through Google Classroom. Using the same format, I have set up a Google Chapel to which the most of the school has access to (if they’ve accepted my invitation). I post prayers, and inspirational quotes, reflections, videos. People can react publicly to posts or send me a private message. Regularly they ask for prayers for someone.
One of the most successful Google Chapel initiatives was the Easter Cross Design Competition which 25 girls from years 7, 8 and 9 took up. It got them thinking about the cross and the resurrection and they came up with some creative interpretations.
The initiative with the most engagement with the creation of a birthday card for Captain Tom Moore. Approximately 200 pupils and staff wrote messages of thanks and good wishes for the 100th birthday of our latest national hero. We gathered the messages and the girls who are children from key workers and still come into school cut them out and made a concertina-style birthday card which we then posted.
Normally a lot of my work as a school chaplain is low key informal contact with staff and pupils and I feel the lack of face to face contact tremendously. While it is acceptable and appreciated to ask someone in passing: “how are you?” or “how is your gran?”, it feels intrusive to ask those questions via email so it’s looking at other ways in to be in touch.
I am fortunate that I can also go to school on some days as we have a small group of children from key workers coming into school. Mostly they get on with their work, but there are breaks and opportunities for other activities such as games, prayer, sports or birthday card making. It is great to see some other staff on those days too. Usually I organise a prayer for all those who are in school on those days. To regularly try and assure people of my prayers and to make that a little bit more tangible, our FCJ community at St Hugh’s has started to offer an online morning prayer for staff. Finally this time of lockdown is an opportunity to prepare for the future, however uncertain this may seem at the moment.