Virtual Gatherings: Vanderbilt Divinity School offers sacred gathering spaces

The Rev. Laura Cheifetz leads a mindful meditation session on Zoom.

Vanderbilt’s move to virtual instruction has extended to extracurricular online gatherings as well. The Divinity School has created “virtual sacred spaces” using the Zoom platform to help students, faculty and staff stay connected and feel nurtured during this time of transition and physical separation.

Each Monday a time for guided meditation and quiet reflection is offered. On Wednesdays, worship services are conducted, followed by coffee chats that were formerly held in the Divinity School’s new expansion. Thursday afternoon tea times also have moved online.

“It was important to us to create these communal sacred spaces because we’re training leaders who are called to be with people through life’s difficulties,” said Amy Steele, assistant dean for student affairs and community life. “Gathering around the rituals, music, scripture and other sacred texts reminds us that we are not the first to experience suffering and death and we will not be the last.”

The Rev. Laura Cheifetz, assistant dean of admissions, co-led one of the very first Monday meditations on Zoom. She facilitated a guided mindful meditation and breathwork, followed by poems and words of comfort by student Damien-Pascal Domenack, and Karen Eardley, administrative assistant of the Graduate Department of Religion.

“I invited folks to connect with our bodies because when our ‘fight or flight’ response gets activated — as it is during this crisis — we can touch with our bodies and our spirits,” Cheifetz said. “Breathing can move us beyond that, to bring us to a more centered place. When we are centered, we are more likely to be able to be present for others.”

These efforts are also being spearheaded by Phillis Sheppard, interim associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of religion, psychology and culture; and Stephanie Budwey, Luce Dean’s Faculty Fellow Assistant Professor of the History and Practice of Christian Worship and the Arts and faculty chair of the Worship Committee.

“Building community is how people get through difficult times,” Steele said. “It’s just a different way of building community.”

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