Two students!

We’re rebuilding our GFM group at Creighton. If you would have told me two years ago that I’d be relaunching the group of 20 students we had then, with just two students this fall, I wouldn’t have guessed it in my wildest pandemic imagination. Pandemics can be hard on group moral! Maybe you’ve been experiencing that in your communities.

Last year we were struggling to maintain momentum in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions (the flywheel effect in reverse if you will). We had a really encouraging New Student Outreach. We’d met about a dozen new students in addition to the dozen or so who were active the year before. This time last year little did I realize we wouldn’t see a single student at an in-person activity all year! No kidding.

Vapid expectations crept through my efforts to restart “the group” this August. No Student Activity Fair hosted by Creighton. No new student contacts to speak of. Just an aging list of last year’s contacts. Three students indicated that they would not be returning to the group, but were starting a group of their own with pharmacy colleagues. (That’s actually terrific – they have a national organization they can connect with that is just focused on Pharmacy). I got the text seen above from No-Religion-Nate (hope you have a nice life, Nate, not sure why you signed up last year in the first place). I heard back from Lela – a student who attended GFM once her first year, but withdrew from the OTD program last fall. Crickets from 14 others after three attempts.

And then there was Madison. And Kayshe ( long a, silent e ). Thank you Lord!

Two students! That’s our group at this point. I’m very grateful for them both and very encouraged with their positive outlook. Madison and Kayshe have zoomed with me for the past three weeks. Just getting to know them, sharing some GFM vision with them and discerning how I can invest in their leadership. They are a part of a group that has started on its own this fall. Pretty much just students in their class (OT-2s). I felt it best to just coach them and see what kind of resources I can give them for the group they are already in. I’ve still made no contacts with new students!

Tim, how is your team doing? (a fly-over)

Kevin / Univ of Iowa / Iowa City: In his 41st year on staff, reaching grad students and some faculty, meeting totally via zoom this fall, also teaching a class the university is doing at a local prison!

Jake / Univ of Kansas / Lawrence: Just finished a year-long chaplain residency program at St. Luke’s in Kansas City, has been part time with GFM this past year, has had a terrific year of MPD with his budget in great shape, also rebuilding his group after key students moved on from last spring.

GFM Central Area playing Tenzi on zoom at our Regional Staff Conference.

Mark / K-State / Manhattan: Working with several faculty groups, recently connecting with an ecumenical campus minister group reading an engaging book about Jesus, and when he’s not busy with other things…he’s writing a book (something about God and Star Trek).

Linda / Washington Univ / St. Louis: New staff member as of this spring, is herself alumnus of GFM at Harvard, she and her team mate are rebuilding the Wash-U grad student fellowship, and when she’s not helping her husband be a Wash-U professor, she’s serving a local non-profit called St. Louis Bicycle Works.

Tom / Iowa State / Ames: Leads a faculty ministry, is an emeritus professor at ISU in biological sciences, in addition to GFM ministry Tom teaches an ISU honors seminar each year called Faith and Science. He’s gearing up for another session next spring.

George / K-State / Manhattan: Currently the the one leading our team in Back to Face to Face Ministry! George does a thing called Bike Night, reaching international students through food, the Gospel and bike repair! He and his wife also host Brunch and Bible on Saturday mornings in their home!

Josh / Washington Univ / St. Louis: Is Linda’s team mate in leading the grad student part of our ministry at Wash-U, works full time in a lab in addition to volunteering his time with GFM, loves making (and selling and delivering) his own dumplings! Covid has thus far deprived me of tasting them, but I really like Josh anyway and am so glad he’s on our team!

George / Washington Univ / St. Louis: Yes, two Georges. Yes, three staff at Wash-U. This George leads faculty groups including groups at Lindenwood and St. Louis Metro, partners with our undergrad ministries at St. Louis University and Webster. All of his groups have gone virtual since last spring. George has a 15 year old grandson named Warren who is battling leukemia.

This was Zoom in 2012.

So here’s a picture I dug out of my CCC files from when I used to teach The Jesus Class. Jesus Class was a manuscript study on the Gospel of Mark – probably my favorite thing to teach ever. Back then we were trying to stream our events and classes online. People signed up for the class live and in person (at the Student Center apparently) but we were also trying to engage an entire online audience as well. I think this section of the Jesus Class had about a dozen in person participants and about 20 more online. Here’s what it took to do this in October 2012 (pink numbers from the pic):

  1. One teacher. That’s me up on an empty stage in an empty room prepping for that evening’s session.
  2. A plasma screen. Think of it as Screen Share – The participant would see me (like the person on the evening news) with this screen to the left of my shoulder.
  3. That would be my i-Pad (which I still use to this day doing zoom sessions). What I wanted my live class and my online class to see was on my i-Pad. A PowerPoint slide deck. A manuscript of Mark’s gospel I could mark up with Notability. Resource sheets I wanted people to be able to refer to.
  4. A black metal music stand. Anything I ever did in a church required a black metal music stand. (I still use one with my Nordic Track when I work out).
  5. My lappy open to the web-page the class was being streamed to. I could read and respond to the chat from online participants. There was no video of my participants sitting in front of their devices like the Brady Bunch.
  6. Camera pointed at me and my plasma screen. This is the video feed for the online participant. A camera operator was there with me.
  7. The screen on the wall for my live participants sitting in the room (same thing as the plasma screen.)
  8. Tables that my live students would be seated at. Zoom has chat-rooms, conference rooms have tables.
  9. My sound and lighting guy was perched at the back of the room making sure everyone could see and hear and sending the audio feed to the camera operator who was streaming the feed.

Quite a few moving parts! We did this for 90 minutes a week. For 8 weeks straight. The in person audience was the glue for the rest of the class. Students were learning inductive study with a manuscript while learning the Gospel of Mark. The good old days!

Zoom these days…

Compare that with my virtual bible study experience this summer. As a part of our GFM Regional Staff Conference, I was asked to lead a 45 minute bible study in Second Peter. Talk about moving parts! Here’s what it looked like compared to vintage Jesus Class:

  • Our virtual study had 47 participants logged in from 17 different states. It was a job-related conference – the participants did have to be there!
  • I recruited an overall bible study leader, a technical assistant (to manage chat rooms) and 6 small group leaders.
  • I had a small group leaders meeting in preparation for the study and went over a detailed teaching plan.
  • I rehearsed the chat room transitions and screen sharing we’d be doing. We went over the Google-doc everyone would be using.
  • Before the study we sent everyone an unmarked electronic copy of the manuscript and gave them access to the Google-doc.
  • When the study happened it was great fun to see everyone (somewhere) on the screen. The main facilitator/leader was able to camp out near the Google-doc and see all the interaction being logged in via the chat rooms.
  • We spent about half the time in small groups and had a great application session with everyone together blitzing the Google-doc. Check it out if you want to see the archive of the whole study!

Some features come with the Zoom model we weren’t able to leverage 8 years ago in Jesus Class. First of all, everyone has to show up in Zoom! Just streaming the feed from an event is pretty much the same thing as passive video-watching. With Zoom fellow participants can actually see you on the screen, you do have to show up!

Contribution is also more intentional in the Zoom environment. I do remember getting some comments from participants in Jesus Class. They would send their observations and questions in via the live chat. But a well laid out Google-doc draws people in much more. Boxes get filled in. As opposed to waiting for individuals to talk or finish their comment before someone else can contribute, the feedback table in a Google-doc is always being populated with input. Even marking up a manuscript in Zoom is possible in real time.

I’d be interested in your experiences with Zoom meetings, prayer gatherings and Bible studies. This is pretty much how most of our groups are now interacting. Let me know what you think.