Without a doubt, restrictions and measures employed during the Covid-19 pandemic have had a lasting impact on our parishes and our families. For 18 months we were unable to physically gather in our parishes. It was the same with families, many were unable to meet during this period. Clearly the Church missed the people gathering. For others, they didn’t miss the Church. It’s time now for a conversation.
Inviting parishes and people to reflect on how they will pass on the Faith is crucial. Our parishes have changed with reduced participation and attendance. Just reopening for business as usual is not good enough. Many young people and young families have not returned. Maybe they will. Clear pastoral planning will be required to support all our active parishioners in living and understanding their faith in the months ahead. It is time to begin to look towards new models and methods for passing on the Faith at home and in the parish.
Yet as we gather again in our parishes it will be a missed opportunity if we just simply return to and revert to keeping our parishes maintained as before. Bishop Michael Duignan has reflected on this saying, “To return to the way things were, without any attempt to learn from the experience or to embark on serious effort to consider where as a faith community we go from here would be truly short sighted.”
Pope Francis has called for a new ‘living of faith’ and for “everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, styles and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities”.
Boldness and creativity will be required all of us in building up our communities of faith. Restoring our sacramental programmes to the default position as we did before would be a lazy approach. We have crossed a Rubicon. We require a new group of pastorally trained leaders to guide and nurture opportunities to pass on faith.
Stories have emerged that our ‘smaller’ First Communion and Confirmation celebrations have been more meaningful for those attending. The same can be said of marriages in Church. Smaller was better. Building on this will be crucial, supporting young parents as they attempt to pass on a faith that they may not have reflected on will be crucial. Rather than fall into the trap that we don’t see these people often, use our moments of gathering in new ways to support with better catechetical supports. These moments of new encounters can become pastoral moments of evangelisation.
For those who tried to stay connected to their faith during Covid-19, it was most likely at home and possibly on the kitchen table with a piece of technology. This may be one of the solutions of passing on faith in the home and with families. Some viewers began to discover that they could find better liturgies or moments of prayer online. The bar was raised. Others discovered the benefits of joining online faith groups where faith was explored and developed. We need to accept that our Church will be ‘blended’ mixing the in-person experiences with other efficient online opportunities. We can review the online Church option rather than cease it. Just like sport on the television we can grow our in-person experiences with a viewing audience too.
In 2020 I was involved in a research project examining the experience of faith online for young adults. One of the conclusions was that many were online, just not with Church. It would also be fair to conclude this would be a similar sentiment for young families and others too.
The challenge now as we reconnect is to find the new paths and possibilities that will lead to a more developed and meaningful faith. The new Directory for Catechesis can assist with this task. The obligation to attend mass was restrictive for some and liberating for others. Our faith should not only be about rules, but also one where freedom to grow in faith can take place.
A challenge facing all of us in our parishes is to find new ways for people to encounter faith at home and in our churches. Covid-19 forced many parishes to minister in new ways. Just like the two apostles on the way to Emmaus we can walk together and gain new insight into the ‘important matters’. Rather than lament for the past, let us with joy take new opportunities in our parishes to reach out to those who have become disconnected from us.
Gerard Gallagher is a Pastoral Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Dublin.