By Amy White
Special to The Texas Catholic
As the saying goes, modern problems call for modern solutions. Faced with the particularly contemporary challenge of COVID, parishes in the diocese are turning to websites, social media, and other innovative means to communicate with parishioners.
One such parish is St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell. St. Ann has delved headfirst into the world of digital communication since the pandemic, explained Kurt Klement, parish director of adult ministry.
“In response to the initial shutdown with the pandemic, we began to shift many resources online,” Klement said. “We increased our communication team from one person to multiple staff to help develop a robust communication strategy that includes social media and graphic design elements.”
This communication effort includes a newly formed “Content Team,” headed by parochial vicar Father Paul Bechter, that develops parish content, especially for the weekly “Sabbath Guide.” The guide is an online resource which, in addition to offering Sunday Mass readings, provides YouTube and Spotify playlists, discussion questions, and reflections.
New members of the parish are not forgotten in these online efforts. St. Ann now has a monthly online welcome event, “Welcome +,” which connects new members to the community through Zoom, as well as a digital “Connect Card” through which curious minds can learn about the parish.
Another community making significant strides through digital means is Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch.
“During this time of the pandemic, we’ve tried to keep our parishioners connected to the parish through all forms of social media, be it Flocknote, website updates, or emails,” said Father Michael Forge, pastor of Mary Immaculate for more than 12 years.
Perhaps the most innovative development at Mary Immaculate is its “Follow Along on Your Smartphone” campaign. Victoria Harris Gray, director of Arise Ministry at the parish, said its origin was fueled by a dining excursion.
“One afternoon, when eating at a restaurant, the waitress handed me a QR code and instructed me to pull up a menu on my smartphone,” Gray said. “I remember thinking, ‘What if we did the same thing at church?’ Since we can’t use our hymnals or print song sheets, why not allow parishioners to view a digital song sheet on their smartphones?”
With permission, Gray began putting signs around the church with QR codes linking to a digital missal.
“Each week we see more parishioners using the feature, and I think it’s been very successful,” she said.
Gray has also witnessed innovation in her own Arise Ministry, including a move to livestreamed adoration and Zoom prayer sessions.
“Offering the program online has exploded our ministry on an international scale,” she explained. “Our prayer ministry has been able to reach people in Mexico, Columbia, Canada, and Nigeria.”
St. Monica Catholic Church in Dallas also has met the pandemic with an inventive response. The parish executes especially impressive work in its livestreamed Masses. Streaming as early as Palm Sunday of last year—with Masses recorded and posted on social media even earlier—St. Monica has progressively improved the quality of the livestreams it provides.
“We added lyrics and readings to the bottom of the livestream,” said Catherine Hull, St. Monica’s director of communications, “We also added a sign language interpreter as a picture-in-picture frame.”
The parish’s livestreams have met with incredible success, due in large part to the efforts of St. Monica’s director of music, Conner McMains, who has worked to implement the livestreaming platforms for his parish.
“Ministering to those who may not be able to come to in-person Mass has always been important, but I think the pandemic has made it more obvious,” Hull said. “We have people from all over the world that view our livestream Masses.”
In addition to its Masses, St. Monica has moved several other parish functions to online platforms, allowing its parishioners to “come together” even while apart.