How Bethel’s tight-knit, Christ-centered community is prepared (and ill-prepared) to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Morgan Day
“That’s 27…” my roommate joked as we passed by Royal Grounds. Twenty-seven people I’ve greeted during our brief walk from class to the DC. What can I say? It’s a small campus.
There are plenty of people whose numbers reach the thirties and forties. Welcome Week staff probably reach triple digits. It’s simply the nature of the “tight-knit community” promoted during campus tours. Everybody knows everybody; it’s a blessing and a curse.
As we jump into a new year and a “new normal,” there are a few unique aspects of Bethel that will have a strong influence on how we move forward, the first of these being the aforementioned tight-knit community.
The nature of Bethel’s small population allows students to interact in a way that isn’t possible at larger institutions. There are more opportunities to get involved, from joining clubs on campus to attending events put on by Student Activities.
As we interact more, however, we are also increasing the potential spread of COVID-19.
One might assume that the tight-knit community formed by our smaller number of students would naturally better equip us to handle the pandemic. But the need-to-know-as-many-people-as-possible toxicity that has emerged from this close community will hurt Bethel during this season.
I know I’m not the only one whose roommate has counted the number of people they interact with as they walk through campus. As students continue to meet and spend time with as many people as possible, they are widening their circle of contact, making a potential outbreak much more likely and easier to occur.
Our small campus allows for smaller class sizes, thus helping us foster deeper connections between peers and professors. Unfortunately, the strong relationships Bethel is known for are much more difficult to establish due to our COVID-19 reality.
Professors can offer Zoom office hours, but students are less likely to utilize this resource because of the awkwardness many associate with video calls. Small talk before virtual class is nearly nonexistent. This distance is heightened by the fact that many people don’t turn on their cameras during lectures, causing an even greater disconnect than spotty WiFi.
Despite the natural disconnect of this time, there are also aspects of our community that unite us. As a Christian institution, the Bethel community has stated its commitment to “discover what it means to live out Christ’s love in a complex world.”
Living out this mission with the Bible as their foundation, many Christians look to Christ’s command in Matthew 22:49 to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In this time of social distancing and wearing masks, our community recognizes we should be complying with these guidelines as a way of fulfilling the Gospel.
In this sense, Bethel’s theological foundation uniquely equips our community for the ongoing pandemic. However, we also believe that the Lord is in control and that He will provide. This can, when taken out of context, cause people to believe they have the privilege of inaction because “what God wills to happen will happen.”
With this mindset, the need to wear a mask or maintain social distancing guidelines is removed. This view has presented itself throughout campus as some disregard the rules and choose socialization over safety.
While I recognize the importance of being in relationship with one another as God has intended for us, there is wisdom in being able to make social sacrifices for the sake of the greater good.
As we finish up our first week of classes and begin to adjust to life on campus, it’s clear that this semester isn’t going to play out the way we had anticipated. But with strong, focused leadership and a unified community of Christ-followers, we can work through the areas in which we are poorly equipped in order to move forward.
And although my 27 greetings now occur six feet apart, the Bethel community has a strong foundation that will help us navigate our new reality.