Pastors Reach Out Virtually to be With Parishioners During COVID Crisis
As churches closed in Spokane, Catholics felt the strangeness of not being able to attend Mass. For our priests, the experience was also strange. “It was odd, very different,” said Father Kenneth St. Hilaire, “At first, it was very awkward. I have been livestreaming everyday, not just weekends. I got used to looking at a screen and not people.”
“But, I missed the people,” said Father St. Hilaire. “Yes, the sacred mysteries are being celebrated and that is the most important thing. At the same time, you are keenly aware of how many of your people are not able to participate.”
Father Lucas Tomson shared similar sentiments about celebrating Sunday Mass for an empty church, “For a few weeks it was fine, then it got to be really challenging. It was taxing and I really missed the people.”
As the weeks of the shutdown dragged on, pastors came up with creative ideas to help bring their people together virtually. From livestreamed catechetical talks by Father Dale Tuckerman, to a livestreamed lecture on the Catholic martyrs of Wuhan, China, from local historian and expert on the Church’s history in China, Dr. Anthony Clark, parishes tried to provide content to help their people grow. Parishes also livestreamed Masses, some just on weekends and others endeavoring to share the Mass daily. Father Kevin Codd shared nightly reflections for many weeks with his parishioners on Spokane’s South Hill, and others still were filling the needs of the local community by facilitating Catholic Charities work through their parish. In Pasco, the parish built a cross filled with soil, which was placed in front of the altar, then wheat was planted in the cross. During the Easter season, as the wheat sprouted and symbolized new life, each week parishioners could see this symbol of new life as they viewed the Mass on their devices.
Pastors across the diocese connected with their people in a wide variety of ways. Not all could be reached by livestream, so phone calls and letters worked to fill the gap.
As restrictions eased, a few parishes tried parking lot Masses. One of those parishes was St. Peter on the South Hill in Spokane, an effort that was supported by neighboring parishes, as well. Father Tomson spoke about the first parking lot Mass: “It was such a sense of joy. I can say it was authentic joy. I really missed people. Seeing them come back was so heartwarming. That brought me, as a priest, a sense of hope.”
For Father St. Hilaire, the first Mass back in the church was poignant in how different it was from normal. “I was overjoyed to be with the people but it was also very subdued. And that has been the case every since we opened back up. We have had increasing numbers of people, but there has been solemn tone.”
Father Tomson mentioned an awareness the closure of church has brought him and many other priests, “I think it has given us a sense that there is more we should be doing to reach out to the homebound.”