Student.Church and Student.Go, two hands-on experiences for college, graduate school and seminary students, are going virtual this summer, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has announced.
The decision, prompted by health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, has already led some students to pull out of the programs’ summer 2020 sessions. However organizers said those remaining will be given the opportunity to be fully engaged in the domestic and global service they seek.
“The ministry may look different, but the mission is the same,” said Taisha Seabolt, CBF’s global missions student and training specialist who leads Student.Go. “We are going to serve God in some unique ways this summer.”
Those ways include a new cohort experience designed to foster relationships between participants and online connections between students and domestic and international ministries.
Devita Parnell, who oversees Student.Church, said organizers are ironing out which technologies to employ and how student roles will be adapted to the virtual environment.
That program pairs students with churches where they participate in all facets of congregational and outreach ministry.
It’s expected to have 20-25 participants this summer instead of the usual 50, said Parnell, director of CBF’s young Baptist ecosystem.
Student.Go links participants with CBF field personnel in the United States and around the world and with its mission partners.
A dozen students will participate in that ministry, down from 20 to 25 before the switch to virtual was announced, Seabolt said.
Parnell said it’s critical both 10-week programs continue because of the mutual impact on participants and ministries.
“We find that many students who participated in Student.Go and Student.Church have discovered they are called to go to seminary,” she said.
Students will get to see how churches, ministries and missionaries continue to live out their callings amid the social distancing imposed by the pandemic, Parnell added.
“They are having to think about the same questions the congregational leaders are thinking about, such as how to do hospital visits and other ministries in this environment.”
Some of the organizations involved are expressing interest in students’ expertise with technology, she said. “We hope there may be some ways students can teach congregations about social media technology and marketing.”
College student Laura Alyssa Platé said she is looking forward to Student.Church this summer because it offers new ways to engage ministry.
“I’ve already been on one Zoom call and it looks like there is a possibility I will be working for two churches this summer,” said Platé, a senior at Piedmont College in Georgia and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church near Atlanta.
One of those churches is her own, where she has long been involved in children’s ministry and teaches fifth-grade Sunday school.
“We are moving all those things online,” she said.
Platé anticipates continuing in those roles during the summer and also helping develop a virtual version the congregation’s Wednesday night summer youth gathering.
“It’s a learning process for all of us,” said Platé, who participated in Student.Go last year.
It’s also a difficult time, Platé added. “I miss my kids at church. Seeing them on Zoom is fantastic but it is not the same.”
Still, she said all the extra thinking and planning that goes into teaching and worshiping online will only make everyone better.
“I think there is a lot of good that will come out of it.”
Seabolt said field personnel and partners are showing a lot of flexibility in preparing learning and service opportunities for Student.Go participants.
“It’s not going to be busy work,” she explained. “This is a time for us to be creative in doing ministry in a different way.”
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