Parish Appreciation Series: St. Michael

From Fr. Michael Shields

“The challenge is how to meet the people and get the Gospel, the healing, and the Word of God to our people. We don’t have Wifi in the church, so we bought a phone and have been working with that. Now, three times a day, we have Mass in the morning, livestreamed, we have a rosary livestream and we have the Chaplet of Mercy livestreamed. We have anywhere from 20-100 people on each of those, and it’s truly incredible. We had a benediction, with a thousand people joining us online. So it’s amazing to see how some of the elderly are connecting in this way. Now they’re there at Mass time. So that’s a challenge and a victory.

A lot of the elderly are really homebound because of the challenges to their health, this is really giving them what they need, that support and sense of attending Mass. We’ve worked on the sound system so they’re able to pick it up. One woman had a problem hearing with her hearing aids, so we adjusted our microphones and she’s delighted because now she can hear everything. That’s the main thing we’re doing- making sure people have the Word of God preached to them in their home.

We also have something called “Fr. Mike’s Spiritual Conversations,” and we’re doing the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. It’s a 20-30 minute presentation to help people reflect and use as material in their own homes. We’re going to do a teaching on the Triddum so people can understand what the Triddum is, and how we celebrate it.

The challenges, again, are the technological challenges for us. For me, I was a little slow in picking it up, but now I can see how important all this is, and the communication is so cool because we have a parish email that goes out to everyone- we have emails for maybe half our parishioners- and they can share it with other people. So the challenge is getting the word out, but we have a system in place, our website is being viewed all the time and the information is all available online. The technology stuff I always downplayed is really key right now. It’s incredible what can be done with it. We’re planning to do a livestream faith formation on Sunday morning, getting people to dive in. We can have anywhere from 100-200 people tied in on our livestream account, so that we can do our Faith Formation on Sunday morning. We have family faith formation.

One of the cool things is that our people are very creative and calling in creative venues. We have a movement that people are making altars in their homes now, a Holy Week altar, with statues and the Bible and something that looks like palms. We’ve sent out coloring pages for children to color their own palms on Palm Sunday. That’s a suggestion one parishioner had, and people really loved that.

People are listening, and if we’re going to be doing this for a while, we’re going to start a Wednesday night teaching and that will be from 40 minutes to an hour, in addition to our Sunday morning Faith Formation. We have anywhere from 60-90 adults in our regular Sunday Faith Formation, so those people are at home with their families and need support that way. So we’ll celebrate Mass, pray some Lectio Divina, and then enjoy each other’s company and see each other’s faces.

Another suggestion we had was a phone tree, so we have everybody called at least once every couple weeks. There are 15 volunteers and they’re connecting with members of the parish, just making sure people are okay. A parishioner said, “I’ll take it on, I’ll organize it,” and so that’s really cool. We’re now doing youth groups via livestream, apologetics, actually, really fun, and young adults are also meeting on a regular basis through livestream, but that’s pretty normal for people of those ages, it’s not so normal for my age. It’s kind of cool to see how this really does work.

We use phone calls to schedule confession, that can happen 8 hours a day, we have a lot of confessions scheduled out so people can come and go, it’s all by the rules but it’s incredible to see how this has touched their hearts and lives. They’re taking this deep into their spiritual faith, building faith, and reflecting on their faith. That’s one of the gifts that I really see in this, I see people taking this deep in their lives. We are so thankful for what we have in communicating with the parishes, so they have connection with the community and aren’t feeling isolated.

We have more people going to daily Mass now than we would have on a normal day! We have 25-30 attending daily Mass in the morning and by the end of the day, there’s 100 views. That’s pretty impressive. I’ve decided that every daily Mass will have a Sunday-sized homily, anywhere from 5-10 minute homily, focusing on building faith: how we can build our faith now, what the Gospel is talking about? I’m focusing on my side, to make sure that they have something they can take with them.

Our staff is all working from home, but we have people contributing online, which is lovely, I really appreciate that, dropping by checks and giving online. We certainly don’t have the funds we would normally have on a Sunday, but people are picking up and realizing that the parish does need those contributions to continue, we do, so I think that’s something that a parish like St. Michael’s really understands, there’s a maturity there that they will likely bring in a bit of backpay when we gather again.

We can’t do the visitations we’d like to do, that’s a pain. I’d like to go to people’s homes, it’s something I really like to do, but that’s not possible right now. Every priest would say that’s the heartbreak of this whole thing. As priests, we love to see our people, and we love to see them face to face, we love to be with them. Most people think they understand, but as a priest, it’s hard because this is exactly the opposite of what we’ve been ordained to do. This is anti-priesthood, and it’s such a heartbreak not to be out there with people, to say you can’t gather in the church because it’s closed down. It goes against everything you learned when you were formed as a priest. It’s a real discipline, and it’s under obedience to the Bishop that we don’t gather, but it’s a real discipline to move that direction because it’s counter-intuitive for us.

I was walking into the store the other day, and I saw a parishioner, and I yelled out, “A parishioner! A parishioner!” Everybody looked at me kind of strangely, but I was so relieved to see a member of my flock. We’re really blessed to have another priest and deacon in our community, it’s much more difficult for the priests who are alone in their community. You don’t have the same community to bounce ideas off of.

Another cool thing is that there are people who are wanting to join the Church in all this. There’s one young woman who just moved up from Philadelphia and she’s not joining yet because of the isolation, but she’s really excited because she’s coming into a church that, even though it’s closed down, is active. She immediately got into contact via phone with our Youth Minister, and our Youth Minister got her in contact with the Youth Group, so they’re welcoming her, even though she’s new to the community, even though she’s not baptized, someday she’ll be brought into the church, but she’s already a member of our community.”

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About the Parish Appreciation Series:

We asked several parishes 3 simple questions:

  • What challenges are you facing right now?
  • How are you addressing these challenges at your parish?
  • How has your parish community been blessed, despite these difficult times?

The responses have been nothing short of overwhelming: we received over 6,000 words from over 15 parishes, full of hope and courage to face the unknown in service to God’s people. Through this series of posts, each parish shares their story as we’ve received them, with minimal editing, to allow the voice of each person to speak, in all their humanness.

We pray that they inspire you to hope, just as they have inspired us. Stay safe out there, guys.

How to Get Connected:

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  • Connect to your parish. Make sure you know how your parish communicates: via website, bulletin, MyParish app, phone tree, or other means. If you’re not sure, ask!
  • Offer to help. Contact your parish to learn about volunteer opportunities.
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