Two religious organizations on campus — the St. Thomas More Newman Center and the Luther Center — have changed their practices to continue serving USD and Vermillion.
The Newman Center elected to stay open during the pandemic, whereas the Luther Center closed its physical doors and is conducting worship activities remotely.
Bob Jones, a priest at the Newman Center, said the center is following guidelines from Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux Falls Donald DeGrood, which encourage the facility to stay open for Mass.
“We’re using our own discretion,” Jones said. “We encourage people to social distance, and so … there’s plenty of room to spread out. We have an overflow area that’s open so people can social distance while (celebrating Mass).”
Masks are optional at the Newman Center, Jones said, though the facility provides them at the door, along with hand sanitizer.
Jones said part of the reason the Newman center is staying open is to provide students opportunities to socialize while educating them about the virtue of prudence.
“We want people to be personally responsible for their actions and still have the ability to meet new friends,” Jones said.
The Luther Center, on the other hand, decided to close during the pandemic. Kristin Eisele, a pastor at the Luther Center, said the facility was sporadically used, and so it would be difficult to implement safety policies and insure spaces were cleaned between uses.
Ben Eisele, another pastor, said even before the pandemic started, the Luther Center shifted away from regular services and started posting prayers and devotionals on Snapchat to stay connected with students.
“We took a step back, and said if students aren’t in the building, then we will be where they are, which is quite often on their phones,” Ben Eisele said. ”We started a Snapchat Devotional, a weekly centering, and that’s been a good point of contact for students.”
The Luther Center will stay closed for the time being, Eisele said. Its closure, she said, has caused faith groups of all kinds to find new ways to connect with their members.
“For all the challenges the pandemic has posed … one of the gifts has been a forced creativity,” Kristin Eisele said. “(We’re) finding new ways to be together while we’re apart, finding new ways to engage our faith, finding new ways to practice what we believe.”
While the Newman and Luther centers are handling safety guidelines differently, both are adjusting as they see fit to provide worship services and resources amid the pandemic.