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Gator Wesley students maintain community in the midst of COVID-19

Gator Wesley students maintain community in the midst of COVID-19

COVID-19


Erin Lewis
Erin Lewis
I remember the first time I discussed COVID-19 at Gator Wesley, the United Methodist college ministry at the University of Florida. It was on a January afternoon, and a couple of students (including one who studies diseases) and I were hanging out in our common room, doing school work, and listening to a Spotify playlist.
 
It was a normal day. One of my friends mentioned how China was having so many outbreaks. We all brushed it off. I distinctly remember thinking that there was no need to worry. It wasn’t in America, and there was no indication at that time that it would spread.
 
It was no big deal.
 
The next time I talked about COVID-19 at Gator Wesley was the first Sunday back from UF’s spring break. At this point, the outbreak had reached America, but no restrictions were in place.
 
I remember talking about it for a long time before that night’s service began, unpacking some anxieties, hypothesizing about what the next steps would be. We discussed ways for the ministry to be more intentional about limiting the spread of germs.
 
Just a few days later, the semester was moved online until March 30.
 
That was the last Sunday service we gathered as a community.
 
As the communications intern for the ministry, the days following were a blur of meetings, emails, updating calendars and social media, and heartache. But, there was still hope.
 
Sure, it wasn’t going to look the same, but we were going to adjust our methods and find ways to stay connected until we could be back together. And then, just a few days later, the rest of the semester moved online.
 
We have all suffered because of this pandemic. We have all felt the grief and heartache of loss in one way or another, and this feeling rippled throughout the Gator Wesley community as staff moved out of the building, and students returned home.
 
That’s when reality began to sink in.
 
Our building closed to the public. The coffee shop located in the front of our building closed temporarily. Students who worshipped with us for four or more years might not get to worship with us again. Students who were a part of our worship band for years might not play with us again. Some students might not ever get to say their final goodbyes in person.
 
But, that doesn’t mean the Gator Wesley community is gone and out of reach.
 
Gator Wesley, in the midst of it all, has sought to provide normalcy, hope, and community to those feeling lonely, bored, disconnected, or anxious. All of our programming got reimagined, whether that meant switching from in-person to online, like our weekly yoga classes, or redesigned entirely, like our Sunday services.
 
We have continued our family groups -- small groups of students encouraged to “do life” together -- via Zoom and provided ways to stay connected to the Gator Wesley community.
 
Each week was filled with new challenges and ideas for social media content and future online events. The ministry has provided opportunities for small groups, mindfulness workshops, fun social media templates, and more to our community.
 
Of course, seeing each other’s faces a few times a week on a computer screen isn’t the same thing, but it’s better than nothing.
 
Moving forward, we will continue adapting and innovating. Adapting to what our community needs, adapting to new technologies and restrictions, adapting to the “new normal,” and innovating in whatever ways we can to continue living out our mission.
 
I am so blessed to be a part of the community at Gator Wesley because I know that we will never give up. We will continue adapting to the needs of our community, no matter how many times we fail or need to readjust.
 
Before COVID-19, we would gather before worship every Sunday as a staff to share a devotion. We went over the night’s plans and reminded ourselves of our purpose and mission. We exist to invite students into an authentic community that encourages a life with Jesus as they discover who they are becoming and how they are connecting to their community and the world.
 
This same goal remains true as we find new ways to provide community during this pandemic.
 
I know that the day we gather together again will be one of the most joyful days of my life. But, until that day comes, I know that Gator Wesley will continue to provide a space for students to experience community during these unprecedented times.

Erin is a sophomore and is studying Public Relations and Event Management. She is an intern at Gator Wesley and grew up at St. Luke’s UMC in Orlando.

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