“Whatever you do, do from the heart.” (Colossians 3:23)
As the Covid-19 pandemic has altered our country in a very short span of time, there is so much uncertainty about how the future will unfold, especially regarding how things will function as we slowly reopen businesses and churches. Things are far from “normal,” and they may be for some time.
Parishes have made so much progress moving from maintenance to mission in the three years since Unleash the Gospel was published, learning to develop new ways to bring parishioners to a deeper encounter with the person of Christ. It can be easy in the uncertainty, however, to fall back on familiar or comfortable responses: trying to survive as a parish community and simply managing people and circumstances.
But because of the difficulty the pandemic poses, it’s all the more important to remain engaged in the power of person-to-person contact, which is where these encounters begin and are sustained. Now, more than ever, people are struggling and are in even deeper need of Christ. The parish is the place where they come to worship and look for guidance, and the circumstances present a unique opportunity to adapt the way we engage others in a meaningful and personal way, despite social distancing. These are the times where a heart for mission can come more alive and new ways of creatively encountering people can blossom.
Guidepost 6 of the pastoral letter affirms that “the Gospel is most effectively shared in person-to-person encounters. Such personal, on-the-spot evangelization can be prepared for and enhanced by programs and processes and media, but it cannot be replaced by them. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others.”
Jesus Christ is for all times and places, even amid social distancing. While the ability to host programs and events is limited for the foreseeable future, there are still ways to develop a sense of mission and engagement with the parish community.
Reach out to parishioners individually
This can certainly be time consuming, but gathering as parish staff and reaching out to call parishioners personally is a beautiful and powerful way to show the care Christ has for them in this time. You can offer a listening ear, hear about their needs, and potentially direct them to resources when needed.
Offer small groups
As social restrictions begin lightening, one way to continue to foster relationships in the parish is through small groups . Small groups are a limited number of people or families who meet together to keep connected to each other and to the parish. This can be done a number of ways, perhaps with a point person in charge, or empowering families already on mission to reach out to their neighbors to join their group.
Drive by for a visit
Many elderly or high-risk parishioners may still stay home as things begin to open, and a drive-by visit to these people can be a thoughtful way to recognize and meet their needs while remaining safe. Stopping by just for a quick visit in the car or through a window, or even offering to run errands can go a long way to serve the more vulnerable people of the parish.
Go on a rosary walk with another family
As the weather warms up, use the outdoors to engage others in smaller and safer settings. Encouraging people to be active in an outdoor setting can be safe, fruitful, and a nice change of scenery. Going for a Rosary walk and inviting another family or two can be a beautiful way to cultivate prayer as families and encourage growth in personal relationships.
Remind parishioners in communications that this, too, shall pass and that hope is found in Christ
The pandemic has already taken a toll on the hearts of people everywhere, and it is helpful to remember that one day, it will end, but that Christ is our hope while it persists. This can be a loving reminder to communicate wherever we can, but we must also hold this in our own hearts as we love those around us. The witness of this truth can become something that people hold onto.
Each parish has its own individual needs and communities, and this is a time to respond to them with hope in ways that are creatively personal, perhaps offering a path to encounter Christ where there might not have been before.
For more ideas and to share your own and connect with other parish leaders navigating these times, visit the Encounter Grow Witness online community !