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One of my favorite parts of being a priest has been working with and being part of a community. I value the face-to-face interaction I have with my community, so these last few weeks have been a challenge for me, to say the least. Though I completely understand the reasoning behind the decision to suspend in-person services, I initially found myself at a loss without the immediate access to parishioners that I’m used to every week.
The first Sunday live streaming mass was a challenge. Finding a tripod, setting everything up, finding the right angle and distance to record, checking sound – and then beginning the Sunday Liturgy in a way I had never imagined: almost alone.
I always look forward to greeting the community as they arrive, holding the door for the older parishioners, giving high-fives to the children, and just seeing the families and talking to them before mass. But that day, I walked up to the altar and looked out into an empty church.
Church to me, and for many others, is community. It’s a community of people gathered in faith, gathering to worship and gathering to love and support one another as Christ taught us (or doing our best to do that). In this new environment, this new world of social distancing, I had to find my footing. But thanks to social media and our digital world, I was able to gather over 400 people during my first live stream, and many more throughout the day. Parishioners continue to tune in and share words of thanks and encouragement in the comments. Though physically distant, we are still together as a community of faith.
Especially during times of uncertainty, we seek comfort and strength in our faith and faith communities. This is why I am offering mass virtually. Though I am no expert in live streaming, I began broadcasting mass online for parishioners to be able to tune in and maintain that connection to their church community. We’ve certainly had our share of technical difficulties, but viewers have been very gracious while we figure this out as we go. During one mass, when we momentarily lost sound, viewers kindly alerted us to the issue in the comments and patiently waited for us to sort it out.
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This new world and the challenges of the coronavirus has forced me and many others to think in new ways. The world of social distancing and limits of how many people can gather at one time in the same place has forced me to look at new ways of bringing people together and think about those who have been socially isolated since before the pandemic. How can we continue to serve those people once we are once again able to gather under one roof?
I have celebrated many masses online since this all began and now enjoy getting in front of the camera, but it still feels surreal. I love preaching to a congregation because I can see their faces, their reactions, their agreement or disagreement with what I am saying, or even when I am putting them to sleep. I miss that, seeing their faces, their smiles, their engagement, and their faith. I miss giving high-fives and greeting each person as they arrive.
All I can do is pray for the day we will gather again as a community of faith and love and appreciate all the more the things we had to give up. These times have forced me to change how I minister to others, how I help others remain connected to their faith and to each other as a community of faith. But I have found new ways to engage, to preach, and to give a message of hope.