What started out as a blip on the radar has turned into a worldwide health epidemic that is now closing local businesses, clearing essential supplies off the grocery store shelves, and shutting down large scale events.
Now, word is coming from dioceses throughout the country that some parishes are required to cancel Mass, while other dioceses are issuing dispensations to relieve Catholics from their obligation to attend. With all this happening, how can we find ways to spiritually support and engage our congregations during this time of fear and uncertainty? Following are four ways to support your parishioners whether they’re in the pews or not.
1. Live Stream Your Masses
Just because the parish doors may be closed for the next few weeks doesn’t mean your prayers and support need to be. Now is the time to let parishioners know that their spiritual journey with Christ is still the number one priority.
The Archdiocese of Seattle has announced that all public Masses will be canceled, and Catholics have been temporarily dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until the coronavirus danger lessens. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, weekend Masses are still being celebrated, but Catholics are not obligated to attend. With the expectation that most pews will be empty come Sunday, many churches are taking precautions to ensure that business continues as usual.
If your parish has the capabilities, live streaming a private Mass at your parish is one way to allow parishioners and visitors to remain spiritually nourished. This can be done through YouTube and Facebook Live. If live streaming doesn’t work for your parish, there is also the option of recording the Mass and then uploading it to one of those platforms for later viewing.
2. Highlight the Importance of Online Giving
If your parish has online giving, it’s important to communicate to parishioners the importance of recurring giving. It’s not that members don’t want to give, but rather, some forget or are unable to get the envelope to the parish office. Reminding them of the ease of giving online will help parishioners keep up their generosity and ensure that your parish can continue running its essential ministries.
Consider sending out an email reminder or parish app push notification with a link to your online giving site. Be sure to include some bullet points on what your parish can accomplish with the support of its members. It’s not just keeping the heat on or the building insurance current. Think about the many vulnerable people who rely on your parish for food, clothing, baby supplies, and pastoral visits. Where would they be without the regular contributions of your members?
3. Keep Them Updated on Parish Happenings
If you’re an LPi bulletin customer, your parish is already provided a service through ParishOnline.com that automatically uploads your latest bulletin online. If you haven’t done so yet, encourage your members to visit the website and sign up for automatic notifications sent straight to their inbox whenever a new bulletin is uploaded. This way they’ll stay informed no matter where they are each week.
If you have a Church Management platform such as WeGather, it’s the perfect opportunity to get people using the community builder feature. Rather than send out an email to all members, they can just sign up themselves and have news pushed out to them as it becomes available, in the medium they prefer, such as text message, email or message boards.
4. Encourage an Online Prayer Group
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Matthew 18:20). While it’s amazing to be together for prayer, it’s just as powerful when we come together in other ways. Consider putting together a parish-wide prayer group to support one another during this time of anxiety.
A quick and easy way to do this is to create a private group on Facebook (through your official parish Facebook account), where intentions are private. You could also have parishioners email them to the parish administrator who will then compile them and share in a central email forward to all parishioners.
Does your parish have a regular prayer group or Bible study? Don’t cancel the sessions – take them online! Using a web-based platform such as Go2Meeting can ensure that everyone who wants to participate can still do so. If you don’t have anything parish specific, there are still lots of free online programs designed to guide people on their spiritual journeys, such as Dynamic Catholic, Word on Fire and Walking with Purpose.
Has your parish been affected by the Coronavirus? What steps have you taken? Tell us in the comments!