Campus minister serves in Antarctica


Photo by Elvyn Jones of Lawrence Journal-World.

Kevin Hopkins is currently on a two month deployment in Antarctica. In addition to his role as campus minister, Hopkins is a lieutenant colonel in the Kansas Air National Guard.

Story by Lily Stephens, Multimedia/A&E Editor

While the Midwest was in the middle of a polar vortex, University Minister Reverend Kevin Hopkins was enjoying the summer temperatures at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica. While that only means around 20 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, it is much warmer than this month’s 1-degree day. Since leaving Kansas on Jan. 2, Hopkins is currently serving as Chaplain for the United States Military at McMurdo.

McMurdo is a United States Antarctic Program research center and is operated by the U.S. military and the National Science Foundation. There are about 900 people at the station; approximately 100 are military. The rest are scientists and contractors. Hopkins serves the entire population of military and civilians. Only two miles from McMurdo is Scott Base, a New Zealand science station where Hopkins also serves as Chaplain.

Hopkins’ day consists of several different visits and stops around the station. He begins with breakfast in the galley and then heads to the Chapel of the Snows. At the chapel, which also serves as a community center, he talks to people who come in and out to play music, hang out and admire the arctic landscape and wildlife. Hopkins has seen penguins, seals and both killer and minke whales in the Ross Island bay.

After time at the Chapel of the Snows, Hopkins goes out for visits around McMurdo to the medical clinic, fire department, engineering shop and then back to the galley. There is a group of people that play ping pong in the galley, and Hopkins has become an avid player— he hasn’t been beaten yet.

“I am the undefeated Antarctic continent champion,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins also counsels people on the island. Most of the people who come to him suffer from loneliness and restlessness due to the 24 hours of sunlight. Hopkins said that the station can be a very isolating place due to sunlight making sleeping peacefully through the night very difficult.

When Hopkins is not at McMurdo station, he travels to Scott Base, the New Zealand science station, to eat and socialize with the “kiwis.”

The first time Hopkins went to eat lunch at Scott Base, he met a very nice young woman who introduced herself as Ella. They sat next to each other and ate their lunch while chatting about her visit to Scott to learn more about climate change. After arriving back at McMurdo, an officer asked Hopkins how his lunch with Lorde was. Thinking the officer was joking Hopkins said, “I eat lunch with the Lord every day.” He soon figured out the officer was talking about Ella, and the next time Hopkins went to eat lunch with the New Zealanders he told Ella [Lorde] that he did not know she was the pop singer but did now. Naturally, they took a picture together.

When he is not hanging out with the rich and famous, Hopkins plans Sunday service during the week and attends science lectures about the ongoing research on the continent.

Departmental Assistant Kim Heckathorne, who has been keeping things at Osborne Chapel running while Hopkins has been out, says that the basement of the chapel has been quieter than usual since the semester started.

“I miss the interaction that takes place with the students when he is here,” Heckathorne said.

Until Hopkins returns to campus, there will be a variety of speakers and pastors filling in. Admissions Counselor Luke Miltz, Daniel Johnson from House of Refuge Family Worship Center, Emporia State University Chaplain Kurt Cooper and more have all filled in for Hopkins.

Hopkins flies back at the end of February and will be back on campus the first week of March. He said he is excited to spend time with students and enjoy seeing the sunset before he goes to bed.