Adrian Boteanu / Sun File Photo

Students gather in Sage Chapel in March 2017. Cornellians found virtual alternatives during this year's Holy Week and Easter.

April 12, 2020

‘Virtual Ministry’ Takes Easter Celebrations Online

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While churches may be closed around the nation, thanks to the effort of campus groups, Cornellians had little trouble virtually uniting during the holiest week of the Christian calendar.

Cornell Catholic Community held weekly group reflection meetings throughout Holy Week over Zoom for students to reflect on Lent and specific Bible passages, according to Abrey Feliccia, a campus minister with the group.

Feliccia said that the move to “virtual ministry” left her “pleasantly surprised,” even as students reflected and prayed in their seperate homes. Cornell Catholic live streamed masses offered throughout Holy Week, which lasts from Psalm Sunday to Easter, and encouraged students to upload videos of themselves hosting an evening prayer to Youtube.

“All of our services are very communal,” Feliccia said. “It is a bit of a strange feeling to be leading a prayer and be recording it for people to watch later.”

Cornell Catholic typically hosts Easter Mass in Bailey Hall to accommodate the large number of students that attend the service. The event was canceled, along with almost all activities on campus, when classes were suspended on March 13.

Even so, Feliccia said students seemed optimistic during virtual prayer, many of whom are simply glad that they still have the opportunity to watch a mass or pray together in a Zoom meeting.

“There is this collective strength and hope that is coming in this time,” Feliccia said. “Good can be brought out of any of these tough situations.”

Beyond Cornell Catholic, Chesterton House — a center for Christian studies that provides residential housing — still had around half of its 40 house members around to experience the last week of Lent in Ithaca.

But the home located on The Knoll Road slashed some of its usual operations: The house has hosted no events, visitors or guests to follow social distancing guidelines, according to Vivek Mathew, executive director of the Chesterton House.

Instead, house staff primarily interact with the students through Zoom calls and a house-funded Easter dinner for the students who remain together, though in isolation.

“Through Holy Week and Easter, the students have done an amazing job of preparing their own kind of religious life,” Mathew said.

Students and staff pray and lead their own worship services within the house and are in touch virtually with those who have already dispersed, which Matthew called “the diaspora.”

Unlike other campus religious groups, the Chesterton House does not host its own religious services, Mathew said. Instead, the house partners with churches and campus ministry groups throughout Ithaca to get students involved with their services.

The Chesterton House has partnered with the Veritas Forum, a non-profit organization that works with Christian students on college campuses to host forums “[placing] the historic Christian faith in dialogue with other beliefs,” according to its website.

House members attend the online Veritas panels and then are encouraged to further engage with the ideas discussed in their own Zoom breakout rooms.

“The students are from all different churches and campus Christian organizations, but they are all sheltering in place together,” Mathew said. “It is an interesting little bubble that they are in.”