Ministry leaders are working hard this year to adapt programs to new formats, including online and hybrid models. It can be tempting to “copy and paste” old programs into new formats, to put old wine into new wineskins (see Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37–38). For example, we can email parents a lesson plan and tell them which pages to cover in the religious ed textbook, or we can gather the teens on Zoom to watch the youth minister give a talk and send them into breakout rooms for small group time. These solutions are fine, but they fail to respond creatively and take into account the reality we are all experiencing.
Catholics shy away from talking about preaching. An elderly woman shuddered when she told me, “I couldn’t talk to Father about his homily!” One catechetical leader said, “There’s no conversation. It’s the elephant in the room . . . No one is willing to talk about it.” (Connecting Pulpit and Pew, 8). The subject of preaching is a difficult conversation.
In my office, right next to where I hang my coat, there is a phrase written on the wall: “Think Eternally, Act Hourly.” This is an adaptation of a common business phrase often used in international marketing. I have it strategically placed so I will see it every morning, as a needed reminder. The first part of the phrase renews my commitment to seek the Kingdom first. That’s the easy part. I say to God, “I commit myself to your eternal will.” The second part is always the challenge. It is as if God replies to me, “That’s fine, I’m happy for your commitment. In the next 60 minutes, you’re going to have an opportunity to show me if you really believe that.” Suddenly, the commitment is real, not theoretical, and it is going to cost me something right now, whether or not I am ready.
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.