It's only been a week since many churches acknowledged it would be safer for its members to worship from a distance.
With COVID-19, the news coronavirus, threatening people’s health globally, pastors at area churches have scrambled to keep in touch with their congregations despite government mandates that have seemed to bar church services and discouraged public gatherings of more than 10 people at a time.
One ready answer to the problem: Social media.
“The numbers are climbing of parish priests who are livestreaming their personal Masses,” said Blue Rolfes, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette on Wednesday. Priests must say Mass daily, with or without a congregation, and livestreaming and video those Masses is helping share the celebration with a remote or housebound audience.
She said priests and church staffs are also using other means of contacting parishioners, including emails, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and more. Some even use the telephone.
“Our priests are using various forms of social media,” she said, tending to immediate spiritual needs of their parishioners and answering questions and concerns.
Masses, Sunday and daily, are being livestreamed from, among others, the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, St. Pius X and St. Mary, Mother of the Church in Lafayette Parish; St. Bernard in Breaux Bridge; and St. Michael the Archangel in Crowley. Some priests are taking confessions over the phone and some have set up chat sites for parishioners.
“They try to answer as many questions as possible,” she said.
That’s what the Revs. Michael Delcambre and Kyle White of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Broussard were doing Tuesday night — reaching out to parishioners to brainstorm how they could serve parishioners and answer their questions.
The two are saying Mass — just the two of them — at 8:30 a.m. daily and 9 a.m. Sundays. They started this week and despite some technical blips are pushing ahead with Mass and with evening livestreamed programs. On Tuesday, they were talking about St. Patrick — it was St. Patrick’s Day — and asking parishioners how they can best deliver spiritual comfort to them during this global pandemic.
One idea they’ll put into action from 3:30-5 p.m. Saturday: They’ll offer drive-by confessions. Parishioners can pull into the church property behind the school and offer confessions to the priest from the proscribed safe distance of 6 feet. From there, priests will offer absolutions.
The Wednesday 8:30 a.m. Masses will include a homily for young students and they'll provide 8 p.m. livestreamed programs to keep parishioners and connected to the church. Some ideas they've scheduled for evening church programs are: Sunday, "Resources for youth"; Monday, "Share your glory story"; Tuesday, "Family Rosary"; Wednesday, "Wining down with Padre"; Thursday, "The Holy Hour with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament." On Friday, they will show "The Way of the Cross" at 5:30.
At Asbury Methodist Church in Lafayette, senior pastor John Cannon and associate pastor Allison Sauls Sikes used video on their church website Sunday to tell the faithful that “global concerns” had reached “a community level” and that their services would be delivered differently, at least for now. The office will close and group gatherings cease until April 13, the day after Easter, they announced.
Cannon urged church members to stay connected to others who are homebound, elderly or vulnerable. “Everybody has a role,” he said. “Try to make personal contact.”
For now, he said, the church will do worship and prayer online and was working on online children’s ministry this week. They said they hope to move that online by Sunday.
“We can’t have people in the sanctuary, so we are bringing services to them,” Cannon said.
Despite rapid changes, he said, the church will remain flexible in helping its people. One thing that will stay the same, he said, is that the church will celebrate Easter together in person on the first Sunday when restrictions are lifted – whenever that is.
In a blog he posted online, Cannon cited the prophet Jeremiah’s action of buying land at a time when his community appeared certain to fall to invasion. That was because Jeremiah knew, “deep in his soul,” that his people would return to their community someday, just as he knows Asbury Methodist will gather together again.
At Faith Lutheran in Lafayette, church administrator Jeanne Brister said church pastor Rob Miller has only conceded there will be no in-church services for the next two weeks. After that, she said, they will reassess the church’s schedule.
But meanwhile, she said, Miller is recording his Sunday sermons to post to YouTube on Fridays. She said like Asbury Methodist, Faith Lutheran also plans to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday when they can reconvene in the church.
Bill Davie, longtime broadcast professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said his own church, First Baptist Lafayette, livestreamed its service Sunday as the church transitioned into an online only mode.
He said social media presents churches and their congregations with a multitude of possibilities for sharing the faith, even when they can’t share a sanctuary. In fact, he said, social media presents a wealth of possibilities for how to connect with one another – almost too many. He said he’s listened to students disagree on the best way to share information because there are so many possibilities, some of them nor broadly known. The danger, he said, comes when people conversant in a broad range of online options choose one that too many others don’t know.