Community, Coronavirus, Features

BU’s religious organizations spread their love and faith virtually

The coronavirus hit just in time for the religious holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan, impacting services and traditions worldwide. Religious communities on campus are finding ways to push through the difficult times of isolation and continuing to support one another online.

Boston University Hillel Executive Director and University Chaplain Rabbi Jevin Eagle hosted a virtual Passover Seder on Zoom Wednesday. The university’s religious groups are finding ways to continue gathering in virtual spaces while practicing social distancing. COURTESY ETHAN SOBEL

Ethan Sobel, the managing director of Boston University Hillel, said that as people seek a purpose and to remain connected to their communities, the most important thing right now is to offer care and love to students.

“Hillel has been a remedy for the loneliness and the fear,” Sobel said. “This is a time where there’s so much change and so much transition. [Students] need to know that people are there for them.”

Sophie Falkenheim, an active student at Hillel and sophomore in the College of Communication, said she appreciates the welcoming environment that Hillel offers and continues to offer through its frequent online events.

“They’re making a massive effort right now to stay connected, and that is so difficult right now,” Falkenheim said. “It’s such an undertaking to do that and to adapt everything, and yet they’re doing it with such grace and with such care.”

Falkenheim said her involvement in Hillel is the only extracurricular she has been able to maintain remotely. She said it is important to still have things to look forward to despite not being on campus.

“I know that that’s another thing in my day, that’s just going to bookend my day a little bit, instead of just me floating around in nothingness and not having anything to do with the time that I would normally spend in Hillel anyway,” Falkenheim said. “It’s a place that I would just go on campus to be, so it’s nice that it fills that space and provides some sense of structure.”

Serene Chua, campus project coordinator for the BU chapter of the Navigators Christian ministry, said their main programs — weekly “Nav Nights,” which consist of videos and discussions over dinner, and Bible study groups — have been able to continue remotely via Zoom.

Chua said that in order to move events online, they have had to adjust and adapt, but said it ultimately brings members closer together in their faith.

“In a lot of ways, our ministry has continued to run and what’s important for us is to keep the momentum going as well as bringing support to students during this time,” Chua said. “Why we want to continue to meet is because we value the relationship that we have with one another.”

While it was easier for students to pursue their faith when together, Chua said some members of Navs have been turning to their faith to cope with the changes.

“A lot of students, because of their anxiety levels … and recognizing that they’re isolated from the community that they were part of, they’ve actually had to pursue God even more, pursue their faith even more,” Chua said. “I really do believe that religion or specifically, the Christian faith has answers to the questions that people are seeking in this time, especially when there’s so much fear and anxiety about the virus.”

Gian Gonzalez, a missionary and team director who works at the BU Catholic Center, said they are hosting virtual dinners and prayer and worship events. He said this pandemic offers a time for people to strengthen their faith and valued relationships.

“Our faith really is tested during storms because it gives us the time and space to rethink our priorities,” Gonzalez said. “It’s crucial that we’re there to be beacons of hope amidst [this] very emotional time in our world … and to spread love in the form of sharing the gospel and sharing friendship.”

Jared Guertin, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-treasurer of the Catholic Center, said that despite the challenges faced in the world, the church and within the Catholic Center, he is hopeful for a strong return and feeling of renewal.

“[This is] an important period where we can begin growing in a really big way when we do come back,” Guertin said. “Once the bans are lifted and we’re able to gather, [there will be a] massive rejuvenation in numbers and spirit and devotion and love for the church.”

Azanta Thakur, a senior in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and president of BU’s Islamic Society, said it is important for ISBU to do what they can to provide for one another.

“Our community is so steadfast and so strong,” Thakur said. “We have such a good grasp of community that even [with] this whole pandemic … everyone’s still trying to come up with different ways to celebrate our faith together and practice our faith together, and I think that’s just so special.”

Thakur said it is important to search for the lessons within the pandemic, such as the technological aspect, and said she believes everyone should implement online programs and virtual access.

“Doing this kind of disability services has been possible all along and it’s just not something people have been willing to do or have been willing to think about,” Thakur said. “I think there’s a lot of lessons from this that we can take away and grow as [an] organization.”

Gonzalez said it can be difficult to navigate community-building during these uncertain times, when people are isolated and “can’t even hug each other.”

“Technology has given me great windows of opportunity to reach out to more people than I have ever realized,” Gonzalez said. “We have to be creative in the way we love, even if virtually.”

Falkenheim said online programs are not ideal, and said people want to be together again rather than continuing to meet virtually.

“I think once things return to relative normal, people will want to be together again as much as possible,” Falkenheim said. “In the time that we have to be apart, we can also be together this way, but hopefully soon there will come a day when we don’t need to use it anymore.”

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