With the COVID-19 pandemic, a shaky economy, and an impending election, to say that 2020 has been a stressful year for many would likely be an understatement. Catina G. Martin, Hollins’ new chaplain and director of spiritual and religious life, certainly understands that. Having just started at the university on August 10, not only is Martin still adjusting to her first academic chaplaincy (she previously worked as a grief counselor and bereavement coordinator with Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care), but she’s also had to figure out how to provide religious/spiritual guidance to up to 600-plus students of all faiths and backgrounds in what has been arguably one of the most challenging semesters in recent memory.
“I feel for the students, especially the incoming first-years, who were hoping to have a more typical college experience this fall,” said Martin about some of the students she’s been chatting with on campus. “As a chaplain, my first call to service is to get to know the students along with the culture and the climate at Hollins, because when [the students] leave here, for most of them they’re going to enter the workforce. So it’s very important that I help them find all the spiritual and religious resources that they’re interested in while they’re here.”
Born and raised in nearby Fieldale, Virginia, and ordained through the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Martin’s responsibilities as Hollins’ new chaplain include everything from providing religious and spiritual resources to advising a number of student-run, religious organizations and clubs (such as the Muslim Student Association, the Jewish Student Association, and Better Together, an interfaith group). Martin said that the underlying goal is caring for the students spiritually and religiously. “I especially want to help those who’ve left a specific religious community back at home that was really instrumental in their life. My job is to keep them connected to a community here on campus or by providing resources online.”
Although COVID has obviously limited events and activities on campus, Martin hasn’t let the pandemic get in the way (too much) of the in-person component of her mission. In fact, every Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., Martin hosts a masked and distanced interfaith “Sanctuary” time in duPont Chapel. Martin described Sanctuary as “renewal for our spirits and rest for our souls,” and said that all students, even the nonreligious, are welcome. “It doesn’t have a main religious component,” she explained, “but it is rather spiritual as we are turning inside and letting go of things that are causing us great anxiety, [and] meditating and making space for gratefulness for things we’re able to share and enjoy.”
In addition to the Tuesday Sanctuary services, Martin along with the student group Better Together hosted on October 18 a socially distanced get-together called “Positive Vibes.” The event included free snacks and button making, as well as an hour starting at 4 p.m. for club presidents and other students to speak on the theme of positivity. Martin noted, “It was a time to put some positivity in the air for our Hollins community, for our new president, and for everything that is happening in our world.”
As for the online portion of her chaplaincy, Martin added a virtual component to the university’s guide to religious communities in the Roanoke Valley, providing clickable links to connect students to local faith-based communities that offer virtual services and other offerings. Martin’s also been periodically hosting live “mini” Sanctuary services—10-to-15-minute refreshers or inspirers— on the Facebook page for the Hollins University Chapel and Office of Spiritual and Religious Life. Martin plans to do more of these social media meditations and services during the upcoming J-Term, which has been suspended this year due to the ongoing pandemic.
Martin already has quite a bit of experience helping people through difficult times. She completed her first unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, while at the same time working as a volunteer coordinator for Carilion Hospice of Franklin County. In August of last year, Martin completed her two-year chaplaincy residency at The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital and Trauma Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. As for the recent move over to academia, Martin said that being a university chaplain has been “like a dream. I’m so grateful for life and to be here and to be a part of these students’ paths. I’ve learned so much already.”
Regarding the future of spiritual and religious life on campus (i.e. post-COVID), Martin wants to focus on inclusivity of all faiths and even non-faiths—that includes gathering outdoors and in places that are not thought of as traditional religious spaces. “I’ve had conversations with students who profess to be atheists or agnostic just so I can get close to them and see what they think about love and life and God,” said Martin. “I love having those conversations because it means we can find common ground, even if we have differences.”
Martin’s other big goal as Hollins’ new chaplain will be encouraging students to embrace and appreciate those differences and diversities. This, she believes, is key to creating a loving and healthy spiritual community on campus. “My heart is for us to know that we are one big family. We have a lot of similarities, but our differences are what make us so special and valuable both to the campus and [to] the bigger world. We want our students to appreciate those differences both in themselves and in each other.”
Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.