As a campus minister I have become acutely aware of the stress and anxiety among my students (as well as faculty and staff) this time of year. The pressure of exams and projects mix with a general uneasiness about what comes next – particularly for graduating seniors. I also believe congregations are uniquely positioned and gifted to offer care to university students before, during, and after the moments of panic. Here are some thoughts on ways to reach out to students.
Holy Play Time – Does your congregation have a gym or is it near a park? Schedule an open gym time for students or plan a hike or some other activity in a park. We all know that physical activity reduces stress and helps us manage anxiety. Yes, most students have access to fitness centers on campus, but there they might run into classmates or even professors (gasp) and that might heighten the pressure. Getting them off campus, even for an hour, to have some fun can make a huge difference. Our campus ministry has started weekly tennis time, and we are going bowling on the weekend during finals.
Cover With Prayer – When we pray we name our fears. We also offer thanks for the many blessings we have. Take time during your services to pray for students, faculty, and staff of universities. Consider offering prayer partners who can check in on students and send them words of encouragement. Perhaps even have a service of prayer specifically for local campuses and connect with campus ministers to get the word out to students.
Food, Obviously – Often the biggest draw to students and what they ask for most during finals is food. But many times they are given fairly unhealthy food. It is easy to choose to eat food that is bad for us when we are overstressed, but this only makes things worse. When we scarf down junk food we end up feeling more sluggish and focusing becomes more difficult. Offer some healthier food options and consider having a cookout – again to let them get away and relax in the midst of a healthy community.
Listening and Counseling – When you notice a student who is stressed, do your best to listen in a caring and nonjudgemental way. You may feel that a student’s grade in a particular class is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But the grade could affect opportunities and even scholarships. If it is serious to the student, it should be serious to those who are offering care. If your congregation has counseling services or Stephen Ministry, it would be great to make these as accessible to students as possible. Again, they often have these services on campus, but such services might be swamped during these times. They also might not offer the faith connections a student is seeking.
None of these practices is all that difficult or costly. But when done with intention and care, each practice can make a tremendous difference in the life of a struggling student.