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Editor’s Note: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, HDS students Molly Silverstein (MDiv ‘22) and Joe Welker (MDiv ‘22) decided to create a resource for HDS community members to talk about how they’re getting through it. Please enjoy this interview with the creators of Closing the Distance! 

Post by: Molly Silverstein (MDiv ‘22) and Joe Welker (MDiv ‘22) 

Can you tell us about Closing the Distance?  

Closing the Distance is a platform for students at HDS and the surrounding community to share their experience during this time of crisis. This includes spiritual resources we’re drawing upon, how we’re supporting others and ourselves, and the wide range of thoughts and feelings this moment is bringing up for all of us. It’s an attempt to create a robust virtual community in which we can all share our gifts at a time where physical community is necessarily prevented.  

Photo courtesy of Molly Silverstein (MDiv ‘22) and Joe Welker (MDiv ‘22) 

How did you come up with the idea?  

The first day of spring break, after Harvard had decided to move all classes online and the crisis was beginning to really accelerate, we were taking a (socially distant) walk together, and it was obvious how upended and surreal the world had just become. We decided to sit down and record a casual conversation, just the two of us, in which we shared our thoughts and feelings on the COVID-19 crisis. From there, we began to envision involving our classmates in a co-created platform, in which we could share conversations, art, meditations, sermons, and more with the HDS community and beyond. 

Photo courtesy of Molly Silverstein (MDiv ‘22) and Joe Welker (MDiv ‘22) 

Who do you envision as your audience? Is it mostly geared toward HDS community members, or is it growing outside the community?  

Although the platform is intended to give the HDS community an outlet, we want it to grow outside the community. We believe that HDS students are well-equipped to serve the world at this moment and want to be a part of making those connections happen.  

How are you getting in contact with guests on the podcast? 

So far, almost all of our guests have reached out to us! This is exciting to us because it reflects exactly what we want the podcast to be, an outlet for our amazing peers to share their thoughts, resources, and emotions at this time. However, we’re also planning to start reaching out to our classmates, because we know it’s always nice to be asked. We want to include a wide cross-section of religious traditions, identities, and interests to highlight the diversity and complexity of HDS. 

Photo courtesy of Molly Silverstein (MDiv ‘22) and Joe Welker (MDiv ‘22) 

Can you talk about some of your favorite episodes?  

We’re just getting started, but so far, “Episode 5: Spiritual Care Zoomtable,” brought together the widest variety of voices in our community. Every episode so far has included a moment that’s become a favorite, including Emily Rogal’s (MDiv ’20) description of performing spiritual care by putting her own emotions and fears in a Ziplock bag, Ben Freeman (MDiv ’20) discussing reclaiming  “faith” as something relevant in secular as well as religious contexts, and Sarah Belflower (MDiv ’21) reflecting on the pressure to be spiritually “productive” at this time. 

Why does Closing the Distance matter?  

It’s a really scary, upsetting, and uncertain time. Many of us are feeling pressure to “do” something, but it’s unclear how exactly we can be of use to others and ourselves, which can leave us feeling helpless. Working on Closing the Distance has been helping us feel more grounded, knowing we’re consciously working with our community to build something out of the chaos and uncertainty. We want our colleagues and friends to feel like they have an outlet for anything they want to say or create right now and a place in which to cultivate a shared purpose. We are against the cultural pressure to be productive in the midst of a global pandemic, but we do believe in the power of community, and we want to create a platform that makes it possible for a wide range of voices to respond to the moment.