Fish Chaplains

Who You Gonna Call? Campus Chaplains in a Time of COVID-19

Ever felt like you needed someone to talk to, but didn’t know who? That’s exactly what campus chaplains are here for. What you might be surprised to learn is that a chaplain provides emotional, social and spiritual support regardless of a person’s faith or no faith. Chaplains go through training, a master’s and sometimes a doctoral degree, that gives them tools to support students. A chaplain is never there to change a student’s opinion or faith. Their goal is to provide whatever support you need.

Here are 10 reasons a Chaplain might be the best person when you ask: Who you gonna call?

  1. They believe in you.

They see the life in you – call it just Goodness, or Potential, or Buddha nature, or Christ consciousness, or a reflection of the Divine or sacred within you – regardless of your faults or questions. They won’t judge you even if you messed up, and will be there to advocate for you when you need them.

  1. They love the big questions.

Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of life and death? Is there something bigger out there than me? Even questions like: what do I believe? what does my roommate believe? How can we possibly get along? They won’t feel uncomfortable with your questions, but can help you navigate them.

  1. They’re comfortable in the in-between.

Overwhelmed? Just experienced a death of someone close to you? Feel like you’ve lost your way? They’ll walk alongside you whether you’re anxious, or unsure, or grieving. They’re comfortable in the in-between – between death and life, between questions and answers, between doubt and hope. It’s ok to just enter that space with them. Your conversation with them is usually confidential, unless they hear you talk about hurting yourself or another person.

  1. They work in the coolest space on campus.

In what students often say is the safest place on campus. When you get back on campus, go in the Chapel or Interfaith Center or wherever the Chaplains are. You’ll likely find it’s a really calm place, and there is usually food! You are welcome and fed and just allowed to be – in groups or in silence.  And where else can you explore by wandering in and out of gatherings where you can learn about other faiths and philosophies, and feel welcome?

  1. They will help you keep the faith or just be a better YOU.

They’ll help you dig deep inside to discover your own truth – or help you be a better (Person, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Baha’i, Buddhist … fill in the blank). They’re not just all about making everything the same – they honor the distinctions between different religions and secular viewpoints. They’ll help you find a community to connect with when you are ready for one.

  1. They’ll give you tools to center yourself.

To awaken your own awareness and to control your anxiety. They study and practice tools that are drawn from thousands of years of wisdom. Mindfulness, meditation, ritual, prayer, reading, writing, community connection, even yoga … they will listen and guide you if and when you ask.

  1. They know their limits.

Chaplains are trained to know when it’s time to refer you to your doctor or your psychological counselor or your student affairs professional or your professor. They won’t try and be all that to you. They’ll connect you with another Chaplain or community if it’s right for you.

  1. They care about social justice.

They can introduce you to other students who may or may not be religious, but who are also working to make the world a better place. They care about diversity and you as a whole person, and about what your passion is.

  1. They care about you being treated fairly.

Ethics matter for Chaplains. If you feel you’ve been treated wrongly or are struggling with a question, they’ll listen and help you discern or help you get justice. They can provide a conscience for the university, and guide larger conversations, so no one forgets you and your particular concerns, or any marginalized student who is affected by a campus decision or conflict.

  1. They are just fun to be around.

I have yet to meet a Chaplain without a great sense of humor – which may come with the territory of not thinking too highly of themselves, or taking themselves too seriously. People tell us the chaplain’s office is the most fun office to hang out in on campus, as it’s filled laughter! Right now, that goes for our Zoom calls, too.

It’s what we do. Before we all left campus because of the COVID-19 epidemic, our Muslim Chaplain discovered a Jewish student in the prayer room needing someone to talk to, and met with her more than once – just to listen. Once we began studying from home, our Jewish Chaplain was the first to respond to an email and helped a Catholic student manage a difficult family situation. Our Interfaith Dean provided grief counseling over Zoom with an Agnostic graduate student whose father recently passed away. Our Protestant Chaplain is just a trusted adult in the lives of various students who contact her regularly for chats.

We’re here for you.

Gail Stearns