Fr Justin Huang, the parish priest at St Anthony of Padua in Vancouver, described his experience when moving his parish ministry online in response to the pandemic.
Like many of us, he has been amazed at how popular live steaming has been among those who would not normally worship with us. Mass is still our foundation. After the pandemic he will continue broadcasting Mass as an outreach opportunity. While many parishes have set up amateur live streams, he recommended investing in a professional set-up when it is possible to do so. This window into Catholic life needs to have the same care given it as our church buildings. The Lord has not called Fr Justin to be a technology expert, so he has involved others from his wider parish team.
Fr Justin uses live streaming for evangelisation: his parish continues to welcome people and has learnt how to be hospitable towards newcomers. Live streamed Mass includes the text of Mass on the screen. Fr Justin returns after Mass to ‘chat’ to his parishioners and newcomers via messaging as an alternative to after-Mass coffee. The parish have developed mid-week prayers and discussion groups using video conferencing. Religious education continues and new people drop in. This time is an opportunity to give up long-cherished activities which have not been bearing fruit and to reconsider everything the parish does as an opportunity to share God’s Good News.
Nicky Gumbel, the developer of the Alpha Course, described his surprise at the online interest he has seen for all types of worship and exploration of faith. When people are fearful, grieving or experiencing trauma it is important to remember that God didn’t send this, but He can use it. People are seeking answers. Some people find that online community forums are easier to negotiate than attending a meeting with strangers in at church. People plunge into discussions more quickly and deeply and with fewer inhibitions.
Sherry Weddell, the author of Forming Intentional Disciples, reminded us that this pandemic will not last forever: we should be preparing for our return to church. People who have been attracted to our message will join us. Prepare now for the first two Sundays. Be ready to welcome people home: not just regulars but people who have been away for a long time and those who have never ventured into our community before. Now is the time to check that your website welcomes everyone and does not assume an understanding of Catholic life.
Plan a faith exploration course to follow on from those first two Sundays so that people can satisfy their curiosity and become part of the parish. Consider investing in advertising and post invitations to people. It will be the time to invite those who have not accepted the invitation before. Every parishioner can say to someone, “I’m so pleased that I’m able to go back to church this Sunday. Would you like to come too?”
For more information and resources, join others at the website: uevangelize.org/summit/
Pictured above is Fr Justin Huang speaking with the hosts of the UEvangelise Summit
You can watch Fr Justin’s talk here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUqWJ5x-0CI