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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    UMECM Temperature Check

    June 1, 2021 / By Rhonda Chester, MDIV, United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplain Hendricks Chapel, Syracuse University

    It was an honor to be among the class of 2021 graduates of Syracuse University. Over 6,000 degrees were conferred on this year’s graduates.
    My feelings were mixed as I prayed for and with, blessed, and congratulated the courageous members of this class. They have persevered through a very difficult final year as the pandemic and other socio-cultural and political fires blazed. I recognized their tears as a symbol of both gladness and sadness. Over the last two academic years, we grieved together as we grappled with all the losses- personal and communal, that we have experienced and are still experiencing during the ongoing pandemic. I listened to their laments, joined in their frustrations about missing out on so many traditional ways of being in community during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years and I supported them as they navigated an obviously difficult final year.

    But they persisted.

    They displayed resilience and courage.

    They prayed.

    They accessed God’s grace.

    They Hung Onto Positive Experiences (HOPE).
    HOPE is the United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplaincy’s current theme and focus.
    We developed it during the pandemic and decided that in the midst of all the uncertainty, we will Hang Onto Positive Experiences.

    Many of our United Methodist Ecumenical Campus Ministry (UMECM) students are international students and many are from out of state. While we were unable to gather during most of the academic year, we utilized social media platforms to remain connected. As the United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplain, I have gained the reputation of being the resident grief advisor and support the campus community in times of grief, loss, sorrow, and pain.

    The theme of HOPE is quite fitting and is in alignment with the grief awareness program that I facilitate every semester for the campus community.

    Xiluva Mbungela is one of the students who receive support and care from UMECM.

    Xiluva was very involved with the chaplaincy before having to leave campus and fly back to South Africa during the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. She is still in South Africa and has been taking all of her classes online. She is one of many students who I have been supporting virtually during the pandemic. Xiluva has an incredible work ethic and as hard as it is to balance a very demanding academic major - architecture - a seven- hour time zone difference, she still makes time to connect with UMECM and seek out support when the going gets tough.

    Xiluva said, “As an international student currently learning online from South Africa, talking with Chaplain Rhonda has allowed me to continue to feel connected to Syracuse, despite the distance. Throughout our conversations she has continuously reminded me to extend grace to myself.”

    I continue to serve our campus community with pride and joy and express heartfelt gratitude to all the laity and clergy members of the Upper NY Conference for your continued support. On behalf of the class of 2021 and the entire Syracuse University campus, we appreciate your prayers, support and love and pray God’s continued blessings as you navigate the times.


    With more than 134,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 85 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."