Do you remember this past Lent, when we all had that “can-do” spirit to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in the best way possible given our lockdown reality? The bursts of creativity, the flurry of activity on social media, the daily Zoom lessons we learned. Doesn’t that feel like a lifetime ago?
I remember reading an article back in the spring stating that at that point, we were treating the pandemic like a blizzard, and we should all prepare ourselves for a long winter, perhaps even an ice-age. Well, to quote the cult classic Game of Thrones, “winter is coming” and I don’t know about you, but I am tired. I can’t do another Zoom, Facebook keeps giving me the same three posts, and frankly this pandemic gets closer and closer to me as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths skyrocket.
If this resonates with you, then hopefully you also know this fundamental truth: It is precisely in winter, in darkness, that Christ comes. “The weary world rejoices.”
As a Church, this is the type of moment in which we shine, the type of moment for which we were made. Despite our very real and understandable fatigue, it is exactly right now that we need to double down on our efforts to be a light in the darkness, to bring the True Presence into a world starving for relationship. We cannot delay. As I mentioned in a newly-released OSV Innovation Talk, if the data that I am seeing and my gut serve me correctly, we have roughly 6 months to make sure that we don’t lose about 25% of our Mass-going people as a result of this pandemic.
3 Things Parishes Can Do This COVID Christmas And New Year
These three themes can guide not only what you do for the rest of Advent and Christmas but can define these very crucial next 6 months in the life of your parish.
Number 1: Welcome lots of Drummer Boys and Girls
One of the most amazing things I have seen in this whole ordeal is how creative so many of our clergy and lay leaders have been. In a short time, we upped our game considerably as a Church relative to what we have been able to send out to our people beyond just the bulletin. In addition to pushing content out, we now need to pull people in. This doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) exclusively through social media, though it provides lots of easy ways to do so. As you look at Christmas and ahead to 2021, how can you call forth the gifts and talents of your people in a way that is accessible for them?
Perhaps invite your families to stage their own live nativity on their front lawns and offer some bragging rights to the family that’s most creative. Who are those amazing soloists in your parish? Can you ask them to record their favorite Christmas hymn or better yet, lead a virtual caroling for your parish community for the week in between Christmas and New Year’s? Do you have a parking lot where families could gather at individual tables to make sandwiches for so many people who are suffering in poverty right now? (This one is incredibly important AFTER Christmas as food banks and shelters tend to experience a post-holiday reduction in support).
The common element here is that during a crisis, people need a part to play. Even the most seemingly insignificant things can be incredibly grounding to people who aren’t even aware of how anxious they may be.
Number 2: Create Silent Nights
While there is no shortage of “content” out in the world today, what people are craving right now is an escape, whether they know it or not. They are craving peace, calm, silence. They need a safe space to sit with the big questions and worries on their heart that are really the cause of their fatigue. There is no one better to create opportunities for individual quiet than the Roman Catholic Church. In many states, we will still be able to gather in small numbers inside a church. “Where two or three are gathered in my name.” What schedule of sanctuary can you offer to your people during this winter? How can you invite them one by one to spend some time in the peace and quiet that comes with being in the presence of our Lord? Sure, we might not be able to have beautiful choirs, but we can pipe music in. We may be only able to celebrate the Eucharist at 20% capacity, but we can create an endless relay of Adoration. Everything feels so complicated right now. Our Church knows how to do simple well, because we know there’s only one thing that really matters – the Lord. How can you give your people simple peace and quiet this season and throughout the winter?
Number 3: Be a Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness
I mentioned previously the big questions that weigh on our hearts. Make sure your parish is speaking into those directly. One thing we could do better in our parishes is to acknowledge the weariness and fatigue; name the fears that our people have and connect them to the Living Word of God. Priests and Deacons, talk about your fears. Acknowledge your weariness, not in a tone of venting or “woe is me,” but rather in lamentation, in a recognition of not only the suffering but a belief in Emmanuel, God with us. Fellow parishioners, it’s up to us too. God’s grace is doing amazing things during this time. Let’s be sure we share that on our posts and FaceTimes. Instead of continuing to sit spaced out from each other, with masks on and acting like everything is normal, let’s lean into the struggle and acknowledge it’s real AND how God is real in it.
It will be hard to welcome this new year as the pandemic continues to hang over us and perhaps reaches a tragic new climax in our world. The worst thing we can do, though every external factor is pushing us toward it, is to turn inward. As a Church, we should not simply “try and wait this out.” We, in parish life, have never had a more important moment to embrace our mission to bring Christ to the world. While we may not feel like it, we were called to this moment. We were made for this moment. It is not an accident. God makes no mistakes. At Catholic Leadership Institute, we have long embraced the motto, “God’s gift to us is our potential, what we do with it is our gift to God.”
What gift will you give to God this Christmas and in 2021? I promise the light you bring in this dark winter will be the gift that keeps on giving.
What If They Don’t Come Back? | Dan Cellucci
OSV Innovation Talks is a series of powerful talks on a variety of important topics aimed at igniting innovation and creativity in ministry and evangelization. In partnership with ODB Films, this professionally-produced series presents a full lineup of impactful talks from prominent Catholic leaders. Tagged as “inspiration for Catholic innovators,” the series is meant to be a catalyst for new thinking as it relates to ministry, evangelization, and engagement between Church and culture.