What Hendricks Chapel’s full return to in-person services means for SU community
Emily Steinberger | Editor-in-Chief
Hendricks Chapel chaplains have had to adapt to the conditions set about by the pandemic and follow the university’s COVID-19 guidelines. Some chaplains shifted their services in ways they had never imagined.
Many chaplains at SU managed to stay connected to and expand their following while providing a sense of community during the pandemic. Now, some are planning to return to in-person weekly services while continuing to host online alternatives.
Multiple chaplains at Hendricks said that the number of students seeking spiritual guidance surged during the pandemic. But creating and maintaining a faith community has been difficult for some SU chaplaincies.
“Sometimes people turn to God when they’re in trouble and they let go of that (when) the trouble disappears,” said Rev. Gail Riina, SU’s Lutheran chaplain. “Many people did find God to be a support for them for the first time in their lives.”
Amir Duric, SU’s Muslim chaplain, said the pandemic has brought tremendous pressure on some of SU’s Muslim community members. A lot of Muslim students at SU are not from the U.S., Duric said, and it has been difficult for many to find support resources for emotional detachment from family at home.
A report Duric co-authored in 2020 shows that during the pandemic, Muslim students across the U.S. tended to rely more on the Islamic institutions like local mosques, national Islamic institutions, Muslim chaplaincy at school and the Muslim Student Association.
“We had students who lost multiple family members back home, and they couldn’t go visit,” Duric said. “You can imagine how hard that is to lose your mother or your grandfather back home and you are not able to go visit.”
At the same time, online strategies also helped the chaplains maintain their respective faith communities. Riina said that the Lutheran chaplaincy was successful in maintaining the connections between community members through virtual meetings.
We had students who lost multiple family members back home, and they couldn’t go visit. You can imagine how hard that is to lose your mother or your grandfather back home and you are not able to go visit
Amir Duric, SU’s Muslim chaplain
When Syracuse University suspended in-person instruction in March 2020, the chaplaincies at Hendricks had to drastically shift their services to match university guidelines, such as social distancing and mask wearing.
Some chaplains who opted to switch their services fully online said it was a tricky process to do so swiftly and efficiently, which was necessary when the pandemic suddenly changed the college environment. But many said it turned out to be an effective way to stay connected with community members.
JoAnn Cooke, SU’s Buddhist chaplain, said the Buddhist chaplaincy adopted virtual meditation sessions during the pandemic to replace in-person ones.
“You would think that doing (meditation) with other people on Zoom really would not be very powerful,” Cooke said. “But in fact, it is.”
Singing, which is a crucial part in the Christian liturgy, was also not allowed in the weekly worship among the chaplaincies amid the pandemic.
“That was the biggest loss for us,” Riina said. “Because music is a very big part of our worship.”
Devon Bartholomew, SU’s Baptist chaplain, said the pandemic has put challenges on both the chaplains and others participating in the faith. Given the capacity limits of certain places of worship, people often get discouraged from attending the services, he said.
Father Gerry Waterman, SU’s Roman Catholic chaplain, said that during the pandemic, the Roman Catholic chaplaincy did not offer Jesus’ blood as part of the Holy Eucharist and the priest would deliver the Christ’s body to the recipients’ hands instead of their tongues. People who receive the Holy Communion will have to wear a mask while maintaining six feet of distance from one another.
“Even though I was saddened by the restrictions, I was still happy that we were able to gather — that we weren’t totally shut down,” Waterman said. “So that’s a blessing.”
The New Semester
As SU resumes in-person classes and activities this fall 2021, the chaplains are optimistic about bringing their community members back to the weekly services.
Sarah Noyovitz, SU’s campus rabbi and Jewish chaplain, joined Syracuse Hillel earlier in July. Despite the difficulties the Jewish chaplaincy has endured in the past year and a half, she said she is confident that Hillel will hold more in-person experiences for their community members in the fall.
During opening week, Syracuse Hillel held FreshFest — a three-day pre-orientation program — which hosted 174 first-year students and 53 upperclassmen mentors.
“For many of them, maybe it is the first time that they are participating in Jewish community outside of what their family does,” Noyovitz said. “This is not their parents’ synagogue. This is their Jewish community.”
Several chaplains also said they plan to maintain their online presence to some extent even though the university has eased many COVID-19 restrictions such as social distancing, as online services are an alternative option for those who cannot attend some of the services in person.
Rev. Brian Konkol, Dean of Hendricks Chapel, said that the chapel will continue to provide services to physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing for the campus community while following the most up-to-date COVID-19 guidance in the fall.
“As we prepare for an unfamiliar future, we at Hendricks Chapel will embrace our historic role as the spiritual heart of Syracuse University,” Konkol said. “And through our various programs and services we will collectively seek to make good more common on campus and beyond.”
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