By Josof Ruttig
The spiritual formation opportunities on campus are taking different shapes this semester. Precautions taken to fight against the spread of COVID-19 impact any gathering of people; however, the Office of Spiritual Formation is determined to keep serving the students of Malone. Rev. Dr. Linda Leon, the director of Spiritual Formation, and the entire office under her worked tirelessly over the summer with the COVID-19 task force to ensure that students will be able to safely engage in spiritual growth. “We’re following all of the government guidelines to the letter…we had to play a lot with different rooms, live streaming, Instagram live and even shifting things to the middle of campus,” Leon said. In working with some of the larger-audience spiritual formation opportunities, Community Worship was a bit more tricky. Figuring out room capacity limitations across campus, enforcing mask requirements and social distancing were some of the key challenges that needed to be addressed. In attempting to keep students safe, the suspension of required student attendance at spiritual formation opportunities stands out as one of the biggest changes. With the decrease in attendance among different events due to this alteration, leaders and performers from groups have been challenged to find new ways of ministry. Ashlynn Koeppe, junior integrated language arts major and a member of the Celebration team, believes these changes bring a new level of togetherness among those that attend. “I think there’s a lot more visibility and community for the people who want it,” Koeppe said. Building community by reaching out to different audience members outside the event has been a key growth point for her this semester, both as a minister and as a community leader. Tyler Moomaw, middle childhood education major and leader of the DeVol Dudes life group, also thinks the community aspect of his group has been better than ever. He is embracing this smaller group of people to minister in new ways and to create a safe space. “I have been able to teach less directly than before and it’s allowing me to create a space for vulnerability,” Moomaw said. Koeppe thinks now is the best time to branch out and explore new and different life groups or Bible studies, as community is more important in the midst of an isolating pandemic. Even though the community aspect has risen in these spiritual formation opportunities, both leaders think that the core of their groups are unchanged. Logistics look different, but they still want to create the best possible environment to grow spiritually and build more community. Leon and the Office of Spiritual Formation survey students in order to find the times of day most would be available and try to put the spiritual formation opportunities in those time slots. On top of this, they are more than willing to work with students to find a time and opportunity that will fit what the student most needs. “It’s always people before programs,” Leon said. Between working out how students with time concerns can make it to an impactful spiritual formation opportunity, or working one on one or in small groups with students, the Office of Spiritual Formation wants to help students grow in meaningful ways. This grace and willingness to work to make things easily accessible to all that the Office of Spiritual Formation carries has made this transition go over smoother. COVID-19 has presented a unique set of challenges. That does not stop Leon, the Office of Spiritual Formation, and all the community leaders from committing to serving the needs of students.