The Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown shares an idea to encourage college students to share their religious traditions

Photos courtesy of the Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown

‘Faith in Transition’ Strengthens Religious Affiliation

Contributing Columnist 

Religiously affiliated colleges and universities often struggle with their denominational relationship.  What follows is a program idea for schools that seek to grow this relationship.

I have always served as an institutional chaplain (primarily in health care). In the past, I served for many years as chaplain of a small, private liberal arts college. Part of my responsibility was maintenance of the college’s church relationship. At the beginning of my time there, this responsibility entailed representing the college at denominational meetings and occasional alumni functions. There was no direct tie to campus life, nothing that involved current students, faculty, and staff in the church relationship. Even the local church adjacent to the college was excluded from campus daily activities.

After building relationships, I realized that below the surface, there was interest in change. Faith-affiliated students wanted a more tangible church relationship. They had come to the college in part because of its historic denominational ties. They wanted to see something in campus life that was tangible. In an effort to listen and respond to these students, the Office of the Chaplain started hosting conversations about tangible goals.

As the conversations progressed, student leadership was built, and faculty and staff began to take interest. We capitalized on this growth and were able to make significant small steps that served as building blocks. Perhaps the most notable step for the purposes of this reflection was the creation of paid student minister interns in the Office of the Chaplain, focused on the college-church relationship. Under my supervision, these interns helped us host ongoing dialogues with students, as well as leaders from the affiliated tradition.

These conversations led us to further insights. My student interns and I realized the affiliated tradition was lacking the same thing as our college—tangible ways to be related. We realized that we needed to look both ways. We needed to look inward at campus life, while at the same time doing something that positively impacted the affiliated religion.

At this point, the conversations could have ended in any number of outcomes. We discussed many possibilities, including service projects, mutual visits, conferences and retreats, the list was quite long. We tested some of these ideas, like taking our worship team out into churches in the region.

Eventually, though, we settled on nurturing youth as a focus. This seemed to make the most sense, as it was a core shared value of both the college and the church.

We decided to create a faith-enrichment opportunity on campus, designed for youth from our affiliated tradition. This would benefit the college overall by giving visiting youth and youth leaders a positive experience, and thus create a potential recruitment pipeline. This would benefit campus spiritual life, as students would become mentors for a weekend, and work together to fashion the overall experience. The hopes were also that interest would grow among faculty and staff. And the program would benefit affiliated churches. Youth would have an enriching experience designed for them, by college student mentors under my office’s supervision.

We decided the name of the program would be “Faith in Transition” (or FIT for short). I had talked with our student team about framing the program in developmental psychology theory. As studies continue to show, adolescence is often a crucial period of spiritual development.

Invitations were sent out by letter to affiliated churches in the region. Student leaders were asked to contact their home churches. I made phone calls to key youth group leaders and denominational representatives.

Each time we held the program, we used a fairly consistent format. Participating high school students arrived on Saturday and were welcomed by our college student leaders. We gathered participants together for an icebreaker, split them into mixed groups, and had them do fun activities with college student mentors around campus. They ate in the cafeteria, then returned to their mixed small groups for dialogue, followed by a combined campus worship service. After that, participants had a menu of options: Gaming, a live music café in the campus coffee house (with alumni performers), dialogue and activities with college student leaders, and other options. Participants left with their assigned college student host to sleep. Adult chaperones were lodged in college guest housing. Sunday morning was left flexible. All were invited to attend worship service at the adjacent affiliated church, eat breakfast in the cafeteria, and/or leave when their chaperones were ready.

In our debrief and evaluation, the student ministry interns and I pointed to a number of positive results. We had been successful in providing a safe, fun, and nurturing space for visiting high school students to consider what it might look like for them to stay active in their religion. We had provided a transformative ecumenical experience for our campus, most especially for the dozens of college students who helped lead the program.  We had provided the affiliated religion with a substantial program that served their mission. From the feedback we received, FIT had been a great success, accomplishing all the goals we had set forth.

As I’ve reflected on FIT as a program model, there were areas for growth. While we involved a handful of faculty, staff, and alumni/a in the program, we did not integrate the program into faculty and administrative culture.  While we involved a handful of leaders from the affiliated religion, we did not integrate the program into the religion’s culture. We made progress in both areas. But sustaining this program model would take a much wider effort.

For colleges and universities that might consider FIT for themselves, I would raise a key area of discernment.  As you have read, I chose to base this program on students, especially my student leaders. This had the desired effects of empowerment, ownership, and creativity. However, this choice came with consequences. The rest of campus culture was not integrated, though seeds were planted within faculty and administration.  I have often wondered if there were more ways to integrate these other parts of campus into FIT, whether in the planning, implementation, or evaluation phases.

I have also wondered if FIT could be a model for colleges and universities that are not affiliated with a religion. I think the answer is yes, and already happens to some degree with religious organizations that have existent, integrated ties with the college or university. FIT could easily be adapted for interfaith and intercultural purposes.


The Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown serves as Board Certified Chaplain (APC) with Trinity Health Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He can be reached at [email protected].






‘Pandemic Saints,’ a poetic reflection


Recently, I was offering a prayer of committal:
May the deceased join with the saints in Heaven.

It got me to wonder,
Who are the pandemic saints?

You know, the people who sacrificed the most,
Who led us out of the wilderness,
Who restored our soul in our hour of need?

The people who we now turn to in prayer,
Our role models and intercessors,
Those who truly understand our petitions.

It has been two years and four surges,
Countless death and long-term complications,
Lives upended

Surely, goodness and mercy followed
The COVID souls into eternal rest,
And they must now see the answer
To my questions.

The deceased have become our reredos,
Watching and praying,
Comforting and guiding.

One night in the hospital chapel,
I overheard Sister Mary Catherine,
Reflecting on the pandemic of 1832.
Today’s response has been similar, she said.
People came out of the woodwork to help.
Regular people became

And the pandemic saints are all around us.



Care to learn more?

THIS POEM is part of a column by the Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown, who serves as night chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The start of this column is a reflection Daniel wrote, headlined: Summoning spiritual resiliency after two years of coping with COVID



Summoning spiritual resiliency after two years of coping with COVID

The World Health Organization’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

EDITOR’s NOTE: On March 11, 2020, World Health Organization Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the world, “There are now more than 118,000 cases of COVID-19 in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals. In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher. WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.” As the world marks the second anniversary of the start of this pandemic, we invited a chaplain to write about the spiritual toll of these two years as well as sources of resilience.


Remembering the legacy of the 6 million we have lost

Contributing Columnist

Recently, I met a patient who was the spark that led me to write this article.  Let’s call him Gregory. At the time I met him, Gregory had been suffering from COVID-19 for an extended period, and his situation was getting worse. I had been called in for spiritual support, and we prayed together with his family. He had a wonderful family, career, faith, and religious community. Sadly, and despite the best efforts of the care team, Gregory eventually died from complications due to COVID-19.

I share this sad story for a couple reasons. First, I want to highlight the plight of those who continue to suffer. I want to give a window into what health care workers are still dealing with. The virus continues. While we have come a long way in managing the pandemic, the virus continues to exact a heart-breaking toll on patients, families, and staff.

The other reason for sharing about Gregory has been his impact on me. Meeting him was like the tipping point for my reflections. These thoughts had been stirring and simmering for months. Gregory’s loss helped me realize it was time to write some of these down.

I share these reflections in hopes that Gregory’s legacy, and the legacy of all those who have suffered from COVID-19, may prove fruitful to you. Perhaps it will spark your own writing and sharing about spiritual lessons.

Countless healthcare workers around the world are exhausted. In this photo, Dr. Annalisa Silvestri slumps to the floor in her hospital in Pesaro, Italy, for a moment of respite in the midst of another 12-hour day. Photo provided via Wikimedia Commons by Alberto Guiliani.

Consider the Human Toll

I am a health care worker.

Throughout the pandemic, I have suffered like countless other health care workers, carrying the accumulated stress of coping. I’ve seen the toll this stress has taken. I’ve been through each “surge” or “wave.” Many of my colleagues who are nurses, respiratory therapists, techs, and doctors have faced symptoms much like post-traumatic stress disorder. Some moved away from the virus, away from the constant suffering, onto other clinical units or other health care facilities. Some have taken a hiatus from serving. Some have left health care altogether. Many have been infected themselves. And all health care workers have made immense sacrifices. They gave of themselves before the pandemic, but this grew to a heroic level in the face of COVID-19.

The suffering goes far beyond the hospital. Everyone in America and the world has been affected by the pandemic, as the recent numbers show over 6 million dead around the world and over 900,000 dead in America. Gregory’s death highlighted this reality for me. An entire family system and religious community were devastated by his loss.

The virus created a universal human experience. Even if a family has not suffered an immediate loss, everyone knows someone who has. Everyone has felt the pandemic’s impact.

A Deeper Spirituality

The pandemic has forced me to reach deeper into my spirituality. In order to continue to serve effectively as a hospital chaplain in the face of the pandemic, I needed to grow inwardly. I needed to find fresh sources of renewal for myself, if I was going to help patients, families, and staff to do the same.

Here are some of the spiritual lifelines on which I rely.

Living Water

Throughout the pandemic, one of my sources of renewal has been my prayer life. This has been a constant blessing, filling me up and guiding me whenever–and wherever–I have needed it.  The metaphor of “living water” was used by Jesus to describe renewal:

Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

For me, prayer has been this living water, my primary source of renewal and direction.

My prayer life has deepened. I remember my prayers of March 2020. At that time, we were all coming to terms with the scale and terrible power of the pandemic. At that time, my prayers were focused on immediate needs. How can I serve others in the face of the unknown? How can handle my fears and minister effectively? How do I minister to people who have lost everything?

Despite these difficult prayers, I found great solace. I discovered a sense that God had called me, and all health care workers, to such a time as this.

Letting Go

Fast-forward to 2022. We are now on variant number five (Omicron). The pandemic has become part of daily life. Now, my prayers have expanded in every way possible. I have found myself continuing to pray for the same things as I did in March 2020, but also for countless other things.

For example, I have learned to pray to completely let go of the future. I have learned to pray to release the future into the hands of God. “Let go and let God,” has become my lifestyle. The pandemic has made crystal clear to me that humans are not, ultimately, in control. And I am certainly not in control of the universe.

This prayer of letting go has had an odd, paradoxical effect. The more I have let go of the future into God’s hands, the more I have felt God’s guidance. By letting go through prayer, I haven’t let go of my responsibilities. On the contrary, I feel more empowered than ever by God to make a difference.

Suffering is Universal

Throughout the pandemic, I reflected on the Buddha’s teachings on suffering. In Buddhism, it is important to accept that “suffering” (dukkha in the Pali language) is a universal part of the human experience. Please note that dukkha has also been translated as pain, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and other words. But the point is, it is important to accept that everyone suffers in life, and no one escapes this reality.

I found COVID-19 reinforced this essential lesson. No one escaped the effects of the virus. Even if a person was not personally infected, they knew people who were. The virus has been a global, universal suffering.

Acknowledging the universal nature of suffering has been freeing. It has allowed me to see the pandemic as another part of life. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, I have learned to accept the virus, and therefore be free to experience all the other parts of life.

Being in health care has helped this. At the end of the day, COVID-19 has taken its place alongside all the other viruses that medicine has had to deal with.

In Buddhist practice, there is no spiritual progress without the acceptance of the inevitability of suffering. I have certainly found this to be true in my life. The pandemic reinforced and deepened this lesson. As the pandemic evolved, I evolved. The more accepting I became of COVID-19 as a part of a universal reality, the freer I was in other aspects of my spiritual life. The more accepting I was, the more I grew.

Enjoying the Little Things

The pandemic taught me to value life more than I had before.

This has been especially true with the little things in my world, which, as it turns out, are not “little” at all. They may have been regular, and I may have taken them for granted, but not any longer. I found myself valuing being at home more than I had before, appreciating my loved ones and friends more deeply, enjoying small tasks and chores for thoroughly, and finding more joy in small rewards and small pleasures.

I have found myself valuing my trips outside more than I had before. Over the past two summers, my partner and I have found a way to get out in nature more, and we have appreciated these trips more thoroughly than perhaps we did in the past. Now, trips to a restaurant or a grocery store are somewhat magical; we know what it was like to have it all taken away.

Taking Care

The pandemic has reinforced every compassionate instinct.

We have been reminded, again, that life is incredibly fragile and precious. It has been made clear once again that resiliency happens because we care for each other, and for ourselves. Without this compassion and care, we would not have made it this far through the pandemic. With this compassion and care, we can make it through anything.

Inviting You to Share

If you have your own reflections on spiritual lessons from the pandemic, please share them in the comments section of this article, or email me at [email protected].  I would love to read them and appreciate your journey.


Care to learn more?

WHO IS THIS WRITER? The Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown serves as night chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. As a board certified chaplain since 2001, he has served in health care and higher education settings, as well as interim ministry in local churches. Dan, his spouse Kari, their family (including dog Esther and cat Spicy Pickles), all reside in Albion, Michigan.

A REFLECTION IN POETRY. This week, Daniel also has written a reflection in poetry that you may want to read and share with friends. He calls it, ‘Pandemic Saints.’

FOR FURTHER READING: Daniel also suggests that readers may want to see: