Reflecting on a Year of Ministry in a Pandemic – Grace and Transformation Abide

By Andrew Hyde

As followers of Jesus, we affirm that so much transformation happens when we gather at the table together. 

For our students at the Ecumenical Campus Ministry (University of Guelph), that transformation has often occurred when we gather for Community Dinner each Wednesday. Students come in as lonely strangers, and are transformed into a community as they chat and laugh over bowls of chili. Church partners, who bring us warm crock-pots each week, become surrogate aunts and uncles for UofG students who are far from home. In a usual season, a cramped little living room in the heart of campus becomes a location of grace and grounding, as students are fed both physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

A winter morning at the University of Guelph campus during the pandemic.

But of course, this is not a normal season at the University of Guelph. Campus is almost empty this year. Students are going to classes online, primarily from home. Extracurriculars are happening over Zoom. Our community is trying to remain vibrant over social media and livestreams and via care packages. 

Yet there are still moments of grace. 

I was reflecting on this as I joined a small team of staff volunteers this week, delivering meals to students who are isolating in residence, due to a COVID-19 outbreak on campus. A lapse of judgment by a handful of young students, has now led to 60+ Gryphons — mostly first years — contracting COVID-19. Approximately 200 are taking the precaution to self-isolate. 

As is often the case when university students make poor decisions in our community, there are many feelings of frustration, anger, guilt, and shame. There are many in town who are calling for severe consequences for the students involved — hefty fines, penalties, and expulsions topping the list. 

Yet what I’ve experienced as part of that team of volunteers, is that there are people in our midst who need to be fed, so we feed them. There are students who languish in isolation, so we reach out. The preheated portions of lasagna and fruit cups that we leave on their doorknobs are like the loaves and fishes that we have to offer, and I trust that somehow in the offering, God can transform someone’s shame into a new opportunity. 

How we share a meal together looks very different on campus these days. But the same grace, the same transformation takes place. Thanks be to God.

Andrew ministers as a chaplain at the University of Guelph through Ecumenical Campus Ministry (ECM), a partnership between the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches.