Safety and academic success were the top concerns addressed in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College’s initial response to COVID-19. Soon, maintaining community connections and spiritual health from a distance became a priority.
After initial hope that the alternative delivery methods would be temporary, state and local officials began calling for stricter social distancing measures. As a result, NOBTS and Leavell College leaders began looking for ways to foster community and growth while maintaining physical separation. Students and faculty members have responded with their own grass-roots efforts to maintain connections.
Daily Updates from Dew
The most vital connection point for the seminary family has been the daily video updates featuring Jamie Dew, NOBTS and Leavell College president. Dew has been recording and posting daily updates (Monday through Friday) for the campus community since March 16. In addition to providing vital updates for students, faculty and staff, Dew has used the videos to encourage the NOBTS family with scripture readings and devotions.
In recent days, the videos have addressed emergency financial needs of students, job search information, and tips for maintaining emotional and spiritual health during this time of isolation. Dew and his wife, Tara, recently posted an update with ways to help families cope with the challenges of COVID-19. For less campus-specific updates and encouragement, Dew is posting new episodes on his “Towel and Basin” podcast.
Community from a Distance
With the stay-at-home order in New Orleans extended until at least April 30, additional campus connection efforts have developed – both official and grassroots.
The Student Life Office and the Cafeteria launched the idea of a “social distancing picnic” on March 26. The cafeteria cooked hamburgers and the student life staff created a safe “grab-and-go” distribution method. Families were encouraged to pick up their food, return to their residential area and eat their picnic in the green spaces near their apartments while maintaining a safe physical distance from others. Faculty families enjoyed their picnics in their front yards. The picnic gave seminary families much-needed opportunities to dialog with others while staying safe. On April 2, the cafeteria and student life offered the seminary’s famous red beans and rice as “grab-and-go” meals and encouraged the seminary family to eat outside again.
To break the monotony of the stay-at-home order, many have been sharing activity ideas via the seminary’s campus life Facebook group. After a few families began creating chalk drawings on campus sidewalks near their residences, the idea quickly spread throughout campus. While some drawings were abstract and simple, many were elaborate and most included messages of hope from scripture. Mothers who live on campus also have been sharing child-friendly and family activity ideas through the Facebook group. One of the most frequent contributors in the group has been Tara Dew, the president’s wife. She has shared multiple indoor and outdoor ideas for homeschoolers that can be done while maintaining social distance and a number of ideas designed to foster family spiritual growth during this unique time.
Online Devotions, Encouragement and Connection
On March 24 (normally a chapel day), the school posted an encouragement update from the scheduled chapel speaker – Dustin Turner, pastor of Vintage Church in New Orleans. NOBTS/Leavell College has requested similar videos from each scheduled chapel speaker. These will be posted in order to help students maintain spiritual health during the time of isolation.
To hear directly from students and to understand their needs, Dew scheduled a video prayer meeting using BlueJeans software during the scheduled chapel time on April 2. More than 70 students participated in the first session and were able to discuss their needs with Dew. Many of the students expressed growing financial challenges as well as concerns for friends and extended family members who have been diagnosed with the virus. Ministry was another chief prayer concern. Many of the students serve as pastors or ministers in local churches and have seen their roles expand during the pandemic. Several students asked for prayers for wisdom and strength regarding their response to the needs of their congregations. One participant, a licensed counselor, offered to assist any of the students who are in need of counseling related to this time of stress and isolation. Based on the initial response to the meeting and the number of needs expressed, Dew said plans are underway for additional student video prayer meetings in the coming weeks.
Women’s ministry leaders and faculty wives have also used social media to encourage student wives and women students during this time of isolation. Each day a women’s ministry leader posts an encouraging video in the campus life Facebook group to foster community and spiritual health from a distance.
During his April 1 video update, Dew announced that the Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center on campus will soon launch virtual counseling options for students and other members of the seminary community. Due to state and local stay-at-home orders, the center closed for face-to-face counseling sessions in mid-March. Dew said the staff has worked diligently to create a virtual counseling model while will begin in the near future.