Many parishes have been proactive in their efforts to continue serving in communion with the Church. Regardless of one’s background or capacity to give, the desire to remain a church of outreach in the heart of our world is shared by many. Here is a closer look at the pastoral initiatives Rebecca Malone and the parish team of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish have implemented since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rebecca Malone co-ordinates Children’s Ministry at the English-language parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola. She arrived in Montreal three years ago from Maryland, United States and is now taking part in the Divine Renovation program that has been implemented in the parish for some time. The program, based on a parish-life model of a faith community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, inspired St. Ignatius of Loyola’s pastor Fr. Michael Leclerc, and his entire parish leadership team: "The program is about parish renewal, focusing on the idea of reaching out to people who don't know Jesus or who have strayed from the Church or don't have a parish where they can network, so that they feel welcome." Special attention is given to young people and families: "We are trying very hard to be a church ‘that goes forth’ (as Pope Francis calls it)," explains Rebecca.
A variety of activities to stay connected:
Before the pandemic, the parish ministry and activity schedule was already full. The parish held various gatherings in addition to Mass, such as the Alpha Program (an evangelization tool accessible to all), Connect Groups where parishioners meet in each other's homes to pray, share a meal, etc. The parish also offered a number of other activities, such as The Liturgy of the Word, a children’s program offered to families every Sunday; these sessions were very dynamic and dedicated to the youngest of the community.
With church closures at the onset of COVID-19, the entire team at St. Ignatius of Loyola doubled its efforts to ensure the parish community continued to feel supported and connected. Video clips were put together by a volunteer father who generously offered his time, making it possible for Sunday reading of the Gospel to be a playful and dynamic experience for the children of the parish. Sunday Mass is offered exclusively online, and is broadcast immediately following a segment called the "Virtual Café", a time when the pastor and resident seminarian hold a discussion and "chat" live with online participants, who in turn are welcome to share news, a prayer intention, ask a question, etc. The format has since evolved and now welcomes guests via the cloud platform Zoom.
Both Alpha and the Connect Groups continue online together with a Bible study program via Zoom. In short, parish life is certainly not at a standstill, despite the harsh reality of many churches still closed to the public: "We are fully aware that this COVID pandemic is horrible, but it has also created opportunities that we did not dare to create before. [...] In a strange way, it has helped to create a community, or rather, strengthen the community. "
St. Ignatius Parish put a great deal of effort into its website recently, before the pandemic: "Because we believe that the website is the new front door, the new front yard of the church. [...] So the web site is an important evangelization tool at the moment. Even more important [in this time of COVID]," says Rebecca.
Challenges and Gems
Youth ministry and preparation for the sacraments during this time present a lot of challenges in Rebecca's eyes: "The children don't work well with Zoom. We can do groups with adults, it works very well. But kids don't have that patience on Zoom. It's really hard to do direct ministry with kids online. Luckily, there are video clips every Sunday that help! The work of a catechist is best done in person, when he/she can sit next to the children," Rebecca explains. For adults, however, the virtual component works wonders, in her opinion: "The fact that we can use Zoom to keep adults in touch with each other and engaged with the parish through groups is really helpful. And when we come back, our hope is that people will continue to stay connected."
To discover this parish and their online program (to be explored!), visit: https://stig.ca