Summers meant catching fireflies against the background of the Great Smoky Mountains. The mountains were as green as could be, producing the sweetest of smells that permeated our little town of Maryville. We’d play Hide and Go Seek until the last light fell across the foothills of the Smokies.
The nature of the COVID-19 outbreak presents parishes with a very new challenge. People cannot leave their homes, but most people are still able to do things, just only in their homes. Thus, for now, ministry must occur primarily in the digital sphere. As an Echo student, I live with church ministers and work at a parish. I know firsthand that transitioning ministry online is hard, and, honestly a little weird. But even in the past three weeks, it’s clear that making the transition is far from impossible, and it can actually be quite beautiful. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. One of the implications of this truth is that humanity, sufficiently open to God’s grace, is creative—and with a virtually brand-new ballgame of ministry, a lot of creativity must be had, so I hope to offer a few ideas here that parishes can implement to digitally engage their parishioners, as well as provide a good bit of hope.
For nearly a decade I’ve coordinated a dedicated and deeply faithful group of parishioners who visit the sick and homebound of our faith community. Whenever a new volunteer worries that she or he lacks the knowledge to be a minister to the homebound, I advise them to trust in the importance of their presence. When visitation ministers fear they don’t know how to console, I assure them that their mere presence conveys caring and love—words are secondary to presence.
I have a confession to make: I attended the same parish for three years during graduate school and never learned a single fellow parishioner’s name. I loved going to Mass there, but I never attended a parish function or lingered after a service to talk to fellow worshipers.
Editorial Note: Catherine Coffey is a graduate of the Echo program in the McGrath Institute for Church Life. Echo provides students the opportunity to earn a Master's degree from Notre Dame while gaining real-world experience in parish ministry or teaching high school theology, all while receiving robust spiritual and human formation. Applications for the next Echo community are due January 10, 2020. Learn more here.