Most students have left the Cortland community as a precaution against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but for many, their spiritual needs live on.
“I am keeping up with the students from the O’Heron Newman Catholic Chapel pretty regularly so if people would like to be added to that group messaging, they should email me so I can add them,” said Tricia Wilder, the director of Catholic campus ministry at SUNY Cortland.
Although the chapel currently is not offering the masses, special services, the many social activities and face-to-face support from Wilder that has served Catholics in the campus community in the past, the ministry goes on.
Wilder, who currently is telecommuting at home with her two teenage sons and husband, said members of the campus community can reach out to her via email if there is something that they need as she still is available by appointment.
“We are also updating our Instagram page with uplifting messages and prayers to keep people going through this difficult time,” said Wilder, who has served the Roman Catholic Diocese since September.
The Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese on March 16 cancelled all public masses, prayer meetings, educational programming and certain other activities until further notice due to the novel coronavirus.
For campus community members residing in Cortland, Wilder noted that St. Mary’s is offering daily Masses at 9 a.m. and a Mass on Sundays livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Rev. Barbara Rhudy, interim campus minister at the Interfaith Center on 7 Calvert Street since September, invites her SUNY Cortland congregation to continue to share their spiritual thoughts with her through email, since the center is temporarily closed.
“These days, with the coronavirus outbreak, I've been thinking a lot about kindness — both kindness towards others and kindness towards myself,” Rhudy said. “The Dali Lama has said, ‘Kindness is my religion.’
“May you experience great kindness in these challenging times,” Rhudy said.
Students and other campus community members who identify with the Jewish faith can reach out to Rabbi Daniel Fellman at Temple Concord in Syracuse, N.Y. He is happy to offer remote spiritual support to any of SUNY Cortland’s Jewish community. His cell phone number is 315-530-3937.
Those who embrace the Muslim faith can reach out to faculty member Kassim Kone for guidance now that Friday prayers at the Interfaith Center are on hiaitus.
Wilder recently met with other campus ministers on planning a path forward, and they agreed they are enjoying having more time to spend with their families.
“We’re always rushing to get to the next class, get to the next meeting,” Wilder observed of the campus lifestyle before the pandemic forced the university to close on Friday, March 13.
“When this first happened, we were all panicked,” she said. “‘How can I get this all done?’ ‘How will I get into doing classes online?’ ‘What about my meetings?’”
Wilder advises inhaling deeply a few times.
“Just take this time to sit in quiet; to get to know yourself and allow yourself to feel the emotions that you’re feeling,” Wilder advised students who might be worried about the global health crisis.
“Take a moment to self-care. What we gain from having this quiet time, having the opportunity to remove ourselves from the demands of the outside world will always make us stronger when we go back.”
Personally, Wilder, who is working on her master’s degree, is savoring the time she has to actually sit down to dinner every evening with her family rather than drive her two sons to their various extracurricular activities.
“All the college senior events and partying are gone,” Wilder lamented. “For you, this is also probably the last time you’re going to be living at home. I mean, take the time to hang out with your parents and to strengthen your family bonds. Take it as a blessing, as a grace.”
Rhudy said in times like these she finds inspiration in the teachings of Mister Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who connected through his TV show.
"I'd say the coronavirus has called us to be ever more mindful of the needs and wants of others and to embody kindness," she said.
Quoting Rogers, she said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind,” and “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
Rhudy said it’s also a good time to consider Rogers’ words of hope: “Often when you think you are at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
The Protestant minister often walks alone to come up with poetry to share with her congregations, but hasn’t been out lately to do that. Instead, she shared this poem by Lynn Ungar, “Pandemic”:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love —
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.