Being a Parish

The weekly bulletin and this column are a good thing. I enjoy writing; I enjoy the process of thinking about what I want to write, starting to write, and then sometimes watching the column take on a new direction of thought. Now and again by inspiration or necessity, I might write a whole month of columns or more at a go. Late in the month of February, I had produced pastor columns for the first weekend in March (First Sunday in Lent) all the way through and including Easter Sunday. Check that off the “to-do list.” Then life changed as the world declared a pandemic, the churches closed, and the world found out it was a lot safer to be at home. Some columns did not need to be redone: Unmasking (March 15) and the two columns on “Habits of the Heart” (March 22 and 29). When I made the decision to stay with them and not rewrite them in the light of these pandemic days, I thought that they were still appropriate to the moment at hand. In looking at the columns again this morning, it was a good decision.

The Palm Sunday column needed to be rewritten. It was a description of the Holy Week liturgies and an invitation to come to the church and join us in the celebrations of our salvation. Things change. It is hard to imagine the amazing celebrations of Holy Week being held without the people of God there in the nave of the Church. Out of love and concern for the people of the Diocese, Bishop Parkes suspended public celebration. It was the right judgment and a tough call. But this year, there will be no washing of the feet, no Eucharistic procession through the downtown neighborhood to the Altar of Repose , no veneration of the Holy Cross — ok, enough of mourning the losses! Besides there was work to be done. The Palm Sunday column needed a rewrite.

While the column lamented the loss of our public celebrations, it was also a reminder that “when a door is closed, God opens a window.” One of the silver linings in all of this is that we are all learning to appreciate anew the community of Sacred Heart. So many emails and messages have expressed the keen sense of loss of not being present in the church and not being able to chat with their “pew community” – you know the people who sit in the same place each week who you have come to know and now miss. And so, people are reaching out to check on the members of the pew community; new ways to actively be a church community.

Another silver lining is that folks are becoming active participants in the Mass. This isn’t Netflix where we curl up on the couch and watch. The family gathers, the table is set, and the Mass begins livestreaming. Even remotely, this is the Holy Mass.

People have shared funny stories about the start of the first streaming Mass when one of the family members began with the sign of the cross and the others realize, “Yeah! This is Mass” and joined in on the call/response, standing, kneeling, and singing. As strange as it might have seemed at first, but this is Mass! One of my favorite stories is the Palm Sunday celebration when the kids asked the parents, “What about palms?” Sure – lets go see what’s in the backyard! Palms (or palm substitutes) were found, held up for blessing, waved, and in that moment the celebration extended from parish to living room.

This same family was prepared for the readings, especially the long reading of the Passion. The broadcast was shifted over to the Passion as explained by Holy Heroes on YouTube. It was our “Children’s Liturgy of the Word” carried out at home. There are more stories, but we are learning what it means to be church apart from the lovely structure located downtown. I pray we carry this lesson into today and all days to come!

Here at the parish we are working in remote. The staff is at home but connected to all our digital resources. We still have our Tuesday staff meetings, just online. What are we doing? The usual work of a parish with some changes. Instead of scheduling weddings, we are working with couples to reschedule, accommodate, and make new plans. Hey! We are the folks who figured out how to celebrate seven weddings when Hurricane Irma came visiting. We got this! And you know what? I have an amazing staff. We have an amazing staff. They are adapting, figuring it out on the fly. Faith Formation (Barbara Ferreris and Maria Giral) is selecting and sending out materials, activities and online opportunities to help parents. We are figuring out possibilities for a later celebration of First Holy Communion, while we keep the kids engaged — and help parents be what they were always called to be: the first and foremost teachers of the faith.

The communications team (Pam Ferron, Terry Greene and Lynda Marsh) are adapting on the fly to the emerging needs of these times. In addition to the bulletin and social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more) we are expanding our use of YouTube for livestreaming Mass. We are using our parish emails and website more interactively. We are expanding the use of Flocknote beyond our ministries to the parish more broadly. What’s Flocknote, you ask? It is our new platform for communications: email, text messaging, and newsletters. If you are not yet part of the “flock” it is easy to join: text “SHtampa” to 84576. And there are more changes coming as we extend the boundaries of connecting to you.

And what does this have to do with Easter? Just as Lent moves into the increasing darkness of Holy Week and to the Cross, in our own way, this age of pandemic has been a slow movement into separation of community. If Good Friday has its silver lining it is in the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter – new life! If this pandemic has a silver lining it is that we are moving through mourning what we have lost/missed and rising from that loss to new vibrant life as a parish.

He is Risen, alleluia, alleluia – that we might have life and have it to the fullest. Let us carry the joy of Easter into our everyday. Let us carry what it means to be a parish into our homes and from there into the world.