Help us expand our reach! Please share this article
BRAINTREE -- As part of a weekly webinar series for parish leaders during the pandemic, the archdiocese held a webinar May 4 on Parish Best Practices in Virtual Evangelization.
The webinar featured parish leaders from Salem, Brookline, and Quincy, who spoke about their communities' virtual activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These are times that require unique approaches to ministry. St. Paul says that nothing will keep us from the love of Christ. Likewise, not even a pandemic should slow our efforts to share the Gospel message," Cardinal Seán O'Malley said in his introductory remarks.
The cardinal encouraged all involved in parish ministry to have "a spirit of creativity and a willingness to consider new possibilities."
The first guest speakers were Father Bob Murray and Margo Morin from Our Lady Queen of the Apostles (MQOA) collaborative, which includes Immaculate Conception Parish and St. James Parish in Salem.
Morin, a pastoral associate, talked about how they have been creating opportunities for prayer and service.
One visible sign of this, she said, is the fence outside St. James Church, which has been decorated with "prayer ribbons." People send prayer requests to the collaborative website, and a ribbon is placed on the fence for each petition.
While they have not yet begun live-streaming Masses, on Sundays, they have been holding "MQOA Sunday." Parishioners hear music provided by the parish's music director, listen to Father Murray's recorded homily, and talk in small groups.
Usually, Mass attendees at MQOA find "prayer partners," asking the people next to them how they can pray for them during the Mass. Since Masses have been suspended, they have shifted this practice online. People share their prayer requests virtually, and volunteers call parishioners to ask about their prayer needs.
"That's been really fun so far, having people check in via Zoom or Facebook Live, just trying to get out there to meet people where they're at," Morin said.
Father Murray noted that the pandemic presented an opportunity to improve the collaborative's mission of healing as well as evangelization.
"We decided that, at the end of this, we want to be able to say that we have another new door into our parish. So going forward we are committed to having a stronger online presence," he said.
Father Jonathan Gaspar, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Brookline and St. Lawrence Parish in Chestnut Hill, said he sees this time as "an opportunity" to strengthen the domestic Church and the wider parish community.
He said his parish's staff has been meeting more frequently but for shorter periods of time, and that they have become better at communicating as a team and with parishioners.
"We're evangelizing as much as we would if we had our parishioners sitting in front of us," Father Gaspar said.
He has gotten to know his parishioners, and they have gotten to know him, through his increased online presence. Father Gaspar holds a virtual coffee hour after his live-streamed Sunday Mass, during which parishioners can send him questions and share the highlights of their week. He has also been holding school assemblies through Zoom, which has helped to strengthen relationships with students' families.
Father Gaspar acknowledged that there have been many deaths in the parish lately, though not all from the COVID-19 virus. In light of the challenges of ministering to grieving families, he planned to broadcast a memorial Mass on May 9, during which families would be invited to light a candle in their home.
He said the pandemic has "taught me to slow down and really pay attention to one-on-one ministry."
"This is real evangelization that's happening. We are discovering inactive Catholics coming back, we are reconnecting with the elderly who are homebound and those who have fallen away from the faith," he said.
The final guests were from St. Joseph Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish in Quincy: pastor Father Matt Williams and director of evangelization Andrea Alberti.
Father Williams said the pandemic prompted them to restructure, examine their social media, organize their email list, and update parish registration. They stocked the food pantry to prepare for an increased need due to financial hardship caused by the pandemic, and they began a phone call campaign, reaching out to over 2,500 parishioners.
The Quincy parishes put white bows on their churches to convey that they love and miss the people. The Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, who live next to St. John the Baptist Church, help to keep the building open for Eucharistic Adoration.
Alberti's advice was, "You don't have to do things perfect to do it, you can just do it." She held up two examples that worked successfully for the Quincy parishes: moving their Life in the Spirit seminar and annual Hunger for Justice retreat and fundraiser online.
Resources and suggestions for virtual evangelization can be found at bostoncatholic.org/virtual-evangelization.