What You Can’t See Coming – A Ship Adrift
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1956
In Troubled Water
Through the millennia, sailors would navigate using the best technology they had. Often, despite these tools, they would suddenly find themselves in troubled water. Many are experiencing a similar outcome today. In spite of all of the technology available to us, including GPS directions, decisions based on Artificial Intelligence, forecast models predicting everything from the stock market to the weather-we suddenly find ourselves in troubled water.
Those same technologies are now attempting to present a view of the potential outcomes, but even the most optimistic person knows that those models are just best guesses. We truly do not know what lies ahead. What we do know is that many people are adrift. They have, in nautical terms, become disconnected from their mooring points. Mooring points that included the predictable patterns of work, or the rhythms of a regular day, or the enjoyment from the tapestry of connections that family and friends provide. Those same points that kept them relatively fixed throughout their lives and comfortable in their routine have now shifted or disappeared entirely.
Instead of being seen as immovable, those mooring points are shifting beyond anyone’s control. Instead of being unshakeable, those points now are responding to factors outside of any influence we may have. And instead of providing comfort and security, those points may have been ripped away entirely no matter how tightly we attempted to hold on.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, parishioners experienced life together through the schedules of Mass, school, parish group meetings, and other church events. Those activities provided stability and a foundation to rely on when parishioners’ lives were affected by difficult circumstances such as job loss, a family tragedy, relationship issues, and other life-changing events. As a faith community, we shared in the joy and pain of life together. Parishioners knew where they could go to help celebrate as well as ease sadness and grief. The COVID-19 pandemic not only took that stability and foundation away, but it also brought new and difficult circumstances to all of our lives at that same time.
“We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 24-25
But there is hope! Many parishes are now providing virtual moorings to their flock. They’ve recognized that the old paradigm of physical connectedness is now affected by the constraints brought on by the health and safety orders necessary to protect people. Those parishes have embraced a new era of connections available to the virtual world and are utilizing current technologies in novel ways to provide some stability to their parishioners’ lives.
A Time to Hold Fast, and a Time to Pivot
Pivoting, in the business world, is not for the faint of heart. After all, it means the company is making a fundamental change to its business strategy. Worldwide, parishes will need to determine if they need to pivot, at least for the short-term. Pivoting for a parish will bear actions that parishioners may not have seen before, but will be most welcome.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
Your parish could pivot by bringing forth many exciting virtual events and activities. The key to some of these events is to make them live meetings. A recorded video provides some emotional connection, but a live meeting has a dynamic that you can’t recreate using a recorded video. Just follow the guidelines about how to host the live meetings safely and securely.
So, in no particular order, here are some possible virtual activities for your parish; most only take 5-10 minutes:
- Coffee Time with Father: A 10-minute virtual morning meeting where Father, while enjoying his coffee, could share some selected readings or stories about the parish. It may also include a segment Father could call “Some Good News”, similar to the John Krasinski YouTube videos. During those “Some Good News” segments, Father could tell stories of good things that are happening in the parish and the neighborhoods, ranging from acts of service to anniversaries and birthdays, to any story that makes one feel good about life on the planet. Your parishioners have a lot of stories they could share for this segment. Those parishioners willing to participate could even record videos for Father to share.
- Online Prayer Meetings: A short time of prayer, perhaps in the morning and evening. Led by someone in leadership at the church, prayer requests can be sent in ahead of time to the parish office.
- Daily Devotional: A short pause in the day when someone leads a devotional. The meeting can be an opportunity for people to discuss the subject matter, but the moderator would need to make it clear that, similar to the debate structure, everyone gets 30 seconds, no exceptions.
- Elderly/Homebound Connection Group: Not necessarily a video conference meeting, but rather a group of devoted parishioners chartered to bring love to the elderly or homebound in the parish through weekly phone calls. The contact would not be only for the elderly, but could be anyone over a specific age or for those whose health issues keep them homebound. These are the people most in need of help at times like these.
- Ask Father/Deacon a Question: A short 10-15 minute event where Father goes live to answer parishioners’ questions, with no question being off-limits (except for appropriateness, etc.). This is a great time for parishioners to invite their non-Catholic friends to join in for a safe discussion area.
- Facebook Challenges: Record and post a challenge each day for families with young (and even not so young) children to attempt. Then encourage those families to post their videos to the parish’s site. Perhaps Father can include some of these during his Coffee Time virtual meeting.
- Virtual Small Groups: Create groups within your parish to connect people based on life stage, life role, or life interests. These groups do not necessarily need to feel “religious” or have specific discipleship goals. Instead, the purpose is to develop relationships while connecting on common ground.
The key to these ideas taking root is to commit to scheduling events so parishioners can plan to join the virtual meetings. Many will look forward to joining in that time of community and contributing to a feeling of normalcy. Quite a number of your parishioners have a lot of time now, without work commutes and driving kids to school. Take advantage of this time by bringing people together. By providing more connection points, our parishioners will hear the message that we are a parish that cares for them, loves them, and that by mooring together as a community, we all will be stronger during this time and in the future.