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COVID-19: Easter Weekend Encouragement and Updates

 

Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

 

I’m writing on this Maundy Thursday to provide several updates and also to wish you a blessed Easter Weekend. Let me begin with the updates:

 

  • We have received multiple positive reports from students regarding the job faculty are doing in adjusting to a new delivery method for our courses. While this information is anecdotal, I nevertheless want to express thanks to faculty for their determination and adaptability. And thanks, too, to the folks in Technology Services who have provided support to faculty in these efforts.

  • As most of you are aware (but I’ll repeat in case the message got missed earlier), we have postponed our May 9 commencement ceremony to Homecoming Weekend. We will still have a virtual commencement on May 9. More details to come.

  • We were notified this afternoon by the Department of Education that we will receive $822,000 in relief funds through the CARES Act. Half of these funds must be awarded to students as special financial aid and half can be used to offset institutional revenue shortfalls. The half that is to be awarded to students cannot be used to offset refunds to students. While this means we are facing a more significant deficit in the current fiscal year that we estimated when the CARES Act was first passed, we are nevertheless grateful for the funding, which certainly helps now and should also aid us in retaining/attracting students.

  • We have applied for a forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Our loan amount would be $3.24 million. Please pray that our application, which is in the hands of our bank, would go through quickly.

  • We have established two special COVID-19 relief funds, one for student aid and one for institutional support. Most of you probably received an email late this morning providing information on those funds. If you want more, you can find it at https://www.covenant.edu/giving/covid19 Please pray that God would move in the hearts of alumni and donors who are in a position to provide assistance to our students and the college.

  • The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an effect on our admissions efforts. At present, we are 45 deposits (14%) behind where we were last year at this point. Admissions staff are working diligently to connect with seniors online, and Brad Tomas has reached out to faculty to request assistance with interacting with those students. We have 83 students registered for our first virtual Covenant360 (April 17). The majority of those are sophomores and juniors. Please look for opportunities to assist admissions, and please pray that God would surprise us with stronger numbers as we come out of the confusion of the early weeks of this difficult public health situation.

  • We have just under 600 returning students pre-registered for the fall. This number is smaller than last year’s number, likely due in part to smaller returning classes and in part to the financial uncertainty faced by some students. Reaching out to and staying connected with our current students will make a big difference in our retention numbers next fall.

  • Last week, the cabinet had a Zoom call with Dr. Greg Poland, who is an infectious disease expert and head of the vaccine research group at the Mayo Clinic. (Dr. Poland also happens to be a member of a PCA church and is halfway through a masters degree in theology from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.) He provided helpful background on COVID-19 and the strategies that have been adopted in responding to it. He also encouraged us to develop flexible and adaptable plans for Fall 2020. Given the uncertainties that still exist around COVID-19 and the potential for a second wave of outbreak in the fall, he suggested we being to think about ways in which we could approach on-campus education while also incorporating testing for COVID-19, quarantining protocols, accommodations for at-risk community members, limitations on large-group gatherings, incremental easing of physical distancing, etc. The cabinet will spend a fair bit of time in the coming weeks giving thought to these matters and starting to develop adaptable plans that would give us an on-ramp for on-campus operations in the fall. One of the resources Dr. Poland recommended to us is the whitepaper “National Coronavirus Response: A Roadmap to Reopening,” the lead author on which is Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. It provides a helpful framework for thinking about the phases in a return to normalcy. I commend it to you if you have interest in these sorts of matters.

 

These are interesting and challenging days for our college community, our country, and the world. We lack a reliable roadmap for global pandemics like COVID-19 and find ourselves ill-equipped, as a culture, for reckoning with this sort of difficulty. Certainly one of our struggles as a culture is with death. We are not accustomed to being around it or hearing about it so much. We no longer plant graves around our churches, and hence are not confronted on a weekly basis with the reality of our mortality. And yet, suddenly, every night, we are confronted with “skyrocketing” death tolls and grim depictions of the decimation of lives and families by a pestilence that travels among us unseen and unheard. We live at present with daily reminders of the fact that our world groans under the sickness of sin and the weight of the Fall.

 

I suppose in some respects, then, Holy Week and Easter Weekend could not come at a better time for us. Tomorrow, on Good Friday, we will remember the crucifixion of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who gave up the privilege of sitting at the Father’s right hand to take on flesh. He willingly subjected himself to the finitude of human existence and then took upon himself all of our sin. He willingly subjected himself to death on the cross. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, tasted death. It’s a truly remarkable thing to ponder.

 

Thanks be to God, though, the story doesn’t end with Good Friday. On Sunday, Easter morning, we get to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Our savior conquered death, he came up from his grave, he was the firstborn of the new creation. In his death and resurrection, we have the promise that we too will someday rise from the dead. And not only that, but someday the whole of our world will be made new in Christ. There will be no more death, no more pestilence, no more insidious viruses that take the lives of loved ones and disrupt the lives of millions of others. Jesus Christ has conquered all and will conquer all.

 

It grieves me that I won’t have opportunity to celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection with my fellow disciples on Sunday morning. But, I can’t think of a time when I’ve needed more to be reminded of Jesus’ victory over death and of the promise of new life we have in him. Ours is a wonderful hope, and I trust that as you celebrate this Easter amid the strange realities of “shelter in place,” the Holy Spirit will meet you and grant you fresh reminders of the goodness and love of a God who would give himself to death for our sake and then rise to give us new life.

 

Thank you for the grace and commitment you’ve shown in these unusual times. May our risen King make his presence known to you this Easter Weekend.

 

In Christ,

 

JDH