The restrictions put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced people to reconfigure nearly every facet of their lives: work, school, travel, staying in touch with family and friends.
Jon Stotts, director of adult faith formation at Christ the King Church in Nashville, and Joan Watson, director of faith formation for the Diocese of Nashville, invited people from throughout the diocese to participate in a pair of online forums to discuss how the pandemic has changed their faith practices.
Stotts, who served as the moderator of the forums held May 19 and 21, posed the questions: How have we changed in quarantine as a community? And what would we do differently if this happened again?
“We started with the question of how do you think the Church has handled the crisis,” he said. By the end of the forum, he was hoping the participants would answer the question in terms of “we” instead of “they.”
“The purpose of the forum was helping us to take ownership of the Church and taking responsibility within it,” he added.
“It’s important to have a distinct sense of the power of the laity,” Stotts said.
“In general, I think there was a real positive sense on the part of the participants in both sessions,” Stotts said. “People felt a gratitude for the efforts that were done, while still acknowledging they could improve going forward.”
The pandemic has opened people’s eyes to ways the Church could reach out and engage more people, Stotts said.
“The biggest thing about quarantine besides the health risk is a feeling of loneliness,” Stotts said. “That’s what parishes are for, to demonstrate that we are the Body of Christ and that we are not alone.”
When public gatherings were limited and the public celebration of Mass was suspended because of the pandemic, the staff at Christ the King considered what they could offer parishioners that they couldn’t get elsewhere, Stotts said.
“What we came up with was the wisdom and comfort of our priests, material resources, and opportunities to connect,” Stotts said.
So the parish started posting online videos of the parish priests and Stotts reflecting on the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. The parish also started hosting online meetings for parish groups, like the Knights of Columbus, the Boy Scouts and others, Stotts said.
“The other piece is to give people an opportunity to talk with each other,” he said. “There’s plenty of online content with people telling you stuff.”
“It is all about helping people to feel connected to one another,” Stotts said.
That idea led to using video conferencing for the parish’s regular Sunday morning adult education classes so they could continue their discussions of a variety of topics, Stotts said. Those online sessions became the framework for the diocesan-wide online forums.
The Church’s efforts to connect with the faithful during the pandemic don’t have to end with the pandemic, Stotts said.
“Isolation isn’t something that belongs to quarantine,” Stotts explained.
During the diocesan forums, “There was a lot of hope that parishes would continue to use these technologies even if not everybody needs them” as they do during the pandemic, he added.
But people recognized technology has limits, Stotts said. “I don’t think people are so disconnected from their bodies that they would be happy to livestream Mass only and not come to a live Mass even after the pandemic.”
People still want to come together physically to share in the Eucharist, he said.