A year ago we were all coming to terms with the existence of Covid19 and the ever-changing restrictions being imposed on our work, social, and home lives. Trips to the grocery store were a gamble, and finding toilet paper on the shelves was a triumph. Making matters worse, our churches were closed and staff found themselves scrambling to transition to online ministry while still providing the pastoral care so many of their community members needed. As the pandemic dragged on, we hoped that the next announcement from our governor or the CDC would give us a hint as to when our lives would return to normal. So when the governor of my state announced last week that the majority of Covid restrictions would be lifted in accordance with the new CDC guidelines, I jumped for joy (literally!).
I was still a church lady during the first 6 months of the pandemic. Facility management was one of my responsibilities; thus, I was tasked with creating a reopening plan for a parish with challenging architecture–a sanctuary space that seats around 300 and has low ceilings. I agonized over the question of how to keep my community members safe when we gathered again. Some parts of the reopening plan — placing offertory boxes in the narthex, Communion under one specie, eliminating the Sign of Peace — were simple and straightforward. Others were much more difficult — how do we communicate the factors considered in our plan and what adjustments might be necessary for our music ministry?
The pandemic has done a number on faithful Catholics all over the world. Some of our brothers and sisters experienced a renewed love of Christ, our liturgical traditions, and yearning for the Sacraments in response to the restrictions. Others became alarmingly complacent and all too comfortable with the restricted ability to practice our faith. The Gallup Poll results released in March 2021 showing church membership amongst US adults now falling below 50% left many church leaders wondering how many (or few) parishioners might return to the pews.
The reopening of our churches will be challenging on multiple fronts. The messaging and tone that our leaders use to invite us back to the pews will be critical. It should be expected that our Bishops and pastors will issue reopening statements that reinstate the Sunday obligation and highlight how important regular Mass attendance is. I can’t help but think that this message will be lost if not delivered with joy. As Catholics, we should be brimming with joy at the prospect of returning to our churches to worship. After all, is it not in Christ that we experience the purest and most overwhelming joy?
So the question now shifts to how best to inject joy into the hearts and minds of our parishioners when inviting them back into the pews. The logistical answers for this question will vary depending on the unique ministerial charisms and traits of each faith community. However, I believe the spiritual answer to this question can be found in the Sacrament of Baptism. In our baptism, we are reborn in Christ through water and the Holy Spirit; we are called to be Christ’s light in the world and to share that light with others; we made our first declaration of the Faith that binds all Catholics. I view our return to the pews as our opportunity to wash the stink of the pandemic away; our opportunity to stoke the flames of our faith to ensure it continues to burn brightly for others to see; our opportunity to once again declare the creed that defines our faith community. Returning to our pews is our opportunity to once again be filled with the joy that only Christ can provide.
Kaitlin is a cradle Catholic and former pastoral staff member with the UNC Newman Catholic Student Center Parish. She understands the challenges our ministry partners face every day. 4 years of utilizing Realm to overcome those challenges inspired her to join the ACS Technologies family in 2020. As a Market Strategy Analyst for the Catholic market, she draws on her “church lady” experience to address our Catholic clients’ unique needs.