Responding to crisis
I’m privileged to be involved in leading the Alpha Course on behalf of my parish. Back in March, with one session left of our course, we were forced to cancel our current sessions, as the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic became apparent. One week later all church services were ordered to stop, and the week after that the whole country entered full lockdown.
Back in March I had never heard of Zoom; I never watched an online Mass or thought about running a course like Alpha online either.
Yet within a week of lockdown being introduced, our parish priest had manged to buy one of the last rolls of router cable left in stock and, through trial and error, began to live stream Mass from our parish.
We also began very quickly to build up our community presence on social media and our parishioners mobilised to offer pastoral support to those who could not access online content.
I know this response was echoed in many parishes, all over the world.
Steps of faith
There has, for me, been something deeply missionary about our steps to embrace new technology and keep our faith communities connected in this crisis.
Each foray into new technology, each attempt to adapt our pastoral care to meet the changing needs of the situation, every new innovation to bring the word of God to people and keep Catholic teaching alive has involved stepping out in faith.
Those steps have often been bold and have, on occasion, seen us stumble, as we grapple to learn technology or deal with technical mishaps. And all of those steps have involved asking: What is God asking of us at this time? How are we being called to respond?
How far we have come!
From our first faltering steps and humble beginnings, our online presence has begun to grow.
Just last week, I spent a wonderful three hours on Zoom helping to lead our online Alpha Holy Spirit evening. This was followed by watching Mass live-streamed from my parish the next day, and then catching up with other parishioners at our online tea and coffee session after Mass. Later in the day, I tuned into one of our live prayer intention sessions on Facebook that has been running nightly during lockdown.
In three months, our parish – like so many others – has embraced new technology courageously, as we have sought to respond to the crisis and meet the needs of our faith communities in this most challenging of times.
In three months we have moved ‘Church’ online!
Moving forward in faith
As I write this, we have just received the news that from the 4th July we will be allowed to gather again for public Mass. This is much prayed for and much welcomed news!
Yet, as we gather once more in our parishes, as we return to our church buildings, I am increasingly aware that this does not mean we will see a return to ‘normal’ parish life, as we knew it before.
Naturally Covid restrictions will (for some time yet) change how we celebrate the liturgy, how we gather and in what numbers we meet. The change, however, runs much deeper than that, and will reach far beyond the length of this pandemic. 2020 has seen, for society as a whole, a seismic shift in so many areas of our life that our post-pandemic world is bound to look very different from the one we knew before. This also, of course, is true for our faith communities. We clearly can’t go back to how things had been, and would we want to?
What lessons – learned in lockdown – would we want to take forward? What would we like to see happen next?
As we come out of lockdown, this is a time of great hope, as we gradually see restrictions lift. It is also a time of uncertainty, as we adjust to this ‘new normal’ and how life will look from now on.
The question ‘What’s next?’ can be a very anxiety-filled one in the current climate; so much is uncertain, and people have very real fears of how the lift in restrictions might affect the spread of Covid. However, that question can also be a hope-filled one. Within the uncertainty of this situation, there is also opportunity.
We have a chance to rewrite how our parishes might look; we have a chance to take the lessons learnt, in response to an unprecedented crisis, and shape a new future. We have a rare, if not unique, chance to marry tradition and innovation together; to further build up our communities of faith, and prepare our parishes to meet the needs of a changed world.
In the past few months, I have had so many exciting and thought-provoking conversations with people, as we have discussed ways we can stay connected at this time. There has been an incredible outpouring of shared ideas and partnership, as we have worked together and reflected on how God is moving in this situation.
It is a conversation – started in crisis – that needs to continue in this time of transition and beyond.
We need to be talking with each other about what we each would like to see in our parishes moving forward. What aspects of the new technology we have been using would people like to see continued? What works? What doesn’t?
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Above all else we need to move forward in hope.
As we seek to adapt and plan for the future let us keep Jesus in our hearts and at the heart of all we set out to do.
Let us be brave and bold as we seek to renew our parishes, and allow us to keep our missionary spirt alive, as we seek to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to others.
If God is your partner, make your plans BIG!
Dwight L. Moody