‘I Am Lander’: Baptist Collegiate Ministry leads in ‘defining moment’ of pandemic Story by Karen Petit Friday, Jan 22, 2021
Scott Smith arrived on the Lander campus to lead the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), on June 1, 1985. The ministry operated out of a house on Stanley Avenue until the work was so great that a new location was found in 1987 on West Cambridge Avenue.
In those 35-plus years, the soft-spoken collegiate minister said he’s walked nearly every inch of campus, talked to thousands of college students, and watched Lander grow from a college to a university.
But never, Smith said, has he “experienced anything like the happenings of this campus since March (2020) when COVID-19 changed our campus and our world.”
Since then, many in the Lander community have suffered anxiety, worry and fear. “People understandably wonder what the future will be like,” he said, “because no one has been through anything like this.”
Throughout the uncertainty, everyone wants to know “how long will this last” – a question for which there is no answer, he said.
Yet, as it has done throughout its decades-long existence, BCM has adapted to meet the needs of those it serves, including students, faculty and staff. When the campus closed last March, BCM went virtual and met with students every Thursday to maintain contact and offer encouragement.
When the campus re-opened to students in August 2020, Smith and Katie Troutmanm, a 2007 Lander alumna and BCM’s assistant director, held meetings and services outdoors in the parking lot. They moved activities indoors later in the fall and rearranged rooms to ensure social distancing for activities and small-group Bible studies.
“We had real concerns about losing contact with them,” Troutman said. “We realized early on that they looked forward to returning and being back with their friends on campus.”
She credits the students with “doing a really good job to meet the safety and health guidelines” imposed by COVID-19.
“Students wanted to be together. They missed the camaraderie they had, and they were willing to adapt in order to be with their friends,” she said.
A Lander alumna hosted the group’s fall bonfire at her home and served bags filled with s’mores. “It was nice to do something that seemed more normal,” said Troutman, who divides her time between Lander and Connie Maxwell Children’s Ministries, where she is the volunteer coordinator.
BCM serves students of all denominations, with an emphasis on community – regardless of faith, Smith said.
“Students have a real desire to feel that they matter. They need and want community,” he said.
During the Fall 2020 semester, BCM served more than 200 members of the Lander community. The ministry found a heightened need for counseling services, Smith said, noting that “many needed someone to listen to their concerns, without getting specific direction.”
He described the pandemic and the challenges that people are facing as “a defining moment,” much like the memories people have of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
“This will be a defining moment for students, but there will be other defining moments,” he said. “Each journey has defining moments that affect us and shape us as people.”
Students often seek BCM because a friend invited them, and they find a connection among the students there which brings them back. “Whatever the reason for a student to be here, we welcome them,” Smith said. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen many new faces, and we hope that we have been able to help everyone through this challenging time.”
Smith, who grew up in Pendleton, was the campus minister at Baptist College of Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) before coming to Lander. His path toward being a minister comes from his childhood. “My parents were active in our church and active in service. Church was an early influence in my life.”
In four decades of serving young people, Smith said their needs have changed dramatically. “The problems are more severe and deeper,” Smith said. “They are a reflection of the world we live in today. I’m glad students bring their concerns to us, that this is the place where they come to for comfort and support.”
Since the Spring 2021 semester began in January, Smith said the first weeks have been productive, with several programs already underway and plans for the group to participate in the 2021 Converge Conference.
The annual conference, sponsored by the South Carolina Baptist Collegiate Ministry, is an assembly of college BCM groups from across the state – a place for college students to gather with others to worship, grow and have fun. Usually held at the beach, this year’s conference had to be hosted in multiple locations to allow for greater social distancing because of the pandemic. Lander’s BCM group will meet with others at North Side Baptist Church in Greenwood and have sessions featuring online speakers.
“The church has enough space so that we can social distance and still meet with other college groups,” he said.
In an article in the Baptist Courier in 2017, Smith said, “I love college students, and I’m grateful that God and South Carolina Baptists have allowed me to continue to do this for so many years.”
Smith credits Troutman with helping BCM “build community” and grow its ministry among students. “She has a great rapport with young people,” he said, “and I am grateful for her dedication.”
And even though the times have called for separating students in the BCM space, “we are going to do everything we can to bring them and keep them together,” he said.