In March when I wrote an article in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News about churches and the coronavirus, I quoted a communiqué from the Archbishop of Los Angeles. In it the archbishop said, in part: “the Center for Disease Control (CDC) continues to advise that most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus and that the immediate health risk from COVID-19 to the American public is considered low.”
They were wrong!
We all got caught off guard. As we now know, we are amid the worst pandemic in more than 100 years.
Like so many other pastors I have had to minister to the congregation in ways I never imagined. The church building may have been closed to the public but not the parish services.
We have continued to celebrate Mass daily as before but with a big difference. We are doing so in an empty church.
Every morning the three priests gathered to celebrate Mass. The Mass is televised via livestream. We alternate preaching.
At Sunday Mass, knowing that only 10 people were allowed in the church, the musicians and cantors lead in the singing. The music sheets are made available through our web site. There is one lector. The videographer is in another room controlling the cameras.
When I preach, I make a point of focusing on the camera, knowing I am speaking into people’s homes. At the time of the collection, I ask that people consider donating electronically. People have been extremely generous in response
Viewership of livestream Masses ranged from 700 to almost 2000.
I have gotten emails of appreciation from out of state and even out of country. The internet has certainly made the world closer. Perhaps because people are so confined at home due to the shutdown, they find viewing Mass a welcome diversion.
Many of our parish organizations have been meeting remotely through Zoom. A few months ago, I didn’t even know what Zoom was. Now I have been utilizing this device for meetings several times a day. I have found we are getting much accomplished through these remote meetings. However, I do miss the personal interaction.
Some of our staff members are utilizing YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for Bible classes, distance communication, remote learning, and chat sessions.
Our parish web site, www.sjf.org, has been the way we stay in touch with our parishioners. It has been the gateway to other means of access.
Our parish school has effectively utilized distance learning when it had to shut down. I know this has been a lot more work for them, but they have done creative ways of staying in touch.
On June 3, our church was finally able to open for daily services.
We have opened carefully with a priority on the safety of our people. The church and all the other buildings are being sanitized several times a day. Masks, social distancing and constant hand sanitizing have been a regular part of our life.
We are limited to how many people can be in the church. I was happy to be able to see a real congregation, though diminished in numbers and hidden behind a mask. Since our numbers are limited, we will continue our daily livestream indefinitely.
I’m sure my story can be repeated many times by other clergy leaders who have had to serve their congregations in creative ways due to this pandemic. Let’s pray that through world-wide concerted efforts, our leaders and scientists may find a vaccine that can conquer COVID-19. I don’t want this new normal to be the permanent normal.
Monsignor David Sork is Pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Rancho Palos Verdes.