The news that most of the Melbourne Archdiocese would be locked down for a further six-week period was greeted with both resignation and a great deal of disappointment.
In a year of constant change and with the loss of lifetime patterns of liturgy and ministry, many in parish leadership are feeling tired and stretched. The need to pivot from one set of guidelines to another—frequently within days—is exhausting. Grasping the complexities of changing laws and applying them for parishioners who are themselves struggling, anxious and resistant to change is difficult. … And it’s not over yet—uncertainty about the future of our parishes and the long-lasting damage this is inflicting can be enough to keep us awake at night.
So what now? Where to from here? What is different during Lockdown #2?
As we responded to the beginning of the pandemic in March, a certain adrenaline rush accompanied the need to make quick decisions. Parishes were forced to innovate and move decisively. This time, we can fall back into the patterns we established earlier. The ‘settling back into’ process has little of the earlier adrenaline rush, as we find ourselves in mid-winter, house-bound, and living with even further restrictions, rising infection rates and increasing fear and anxiety.
Naming and owning the reality of how this feels as leaders and how this is for our parishioners are important. The novelty of Netflix binges, reading the bedside-table book pile, upskilling in Zoom and baking sourdough has worn off. Increased hours for prayer and quiet walks don’t feel as welcome as they did in March and April.
All this is a recipe for stress and anxiety. Faced with this situation, we each have a choice. We can respond in an unhealthy way (self-medicate) or we can choose a healthy way (self-care). Carey Nieuwhof, in ‘5 socially-acceptable ways church leaders self-medicate’, lists overeating, working more, gossip, spending and low-grade substance abuse (such as ‘just a glass or two’ or misuse of prescription medication) as common ways we tend to respond to anxiety. None of these are healthy.
Or we can choose to respond more healthily, spending daily time in prayer, regularly exercising, sleeping more, eating well, connecting with friends, pursuing a non-work-related hobby, creating spaces in our diary for ‘down’ time and, importantly, getting professional help if we sense we are not coping.
All of this may seem obvious, but we are much better leaders when we are rested, well-nourished, in touch with God and friends, and ministering out of a ‘full’ rather than an ‘empty’ well.
Are there ways we can encourage our parishioners to make healthy choices during this time?
St Andrews Parish in Clayton South has produced a video celebrating their parish in lockdown; another parish is creating a series of ‘wellbeing’ posts on Facebook, while another is hosting a trivia night to share some fun together.
As Lockdown #2 continues, decisions made in March and April may need to be reviewed. A planned communication strategy is required if we are to keep our parish community together and engaged.
Your parish leaders may want to revisit your:
Your website is the ‘front door’ of your parish—almost everyone who visits your parish for the first time will check your website and make decisions about your parish based on what they see. Your website is also an information hub for your parishioners, where they can go to find any information they need
Your social media are the daily communal and relational tools that allow you to foster conversation and connection with people through their devices. Facebook is the main tool parishes use, but some parishes also use Instagram for reaching their younger people. WhatsApp groups are also popular for keeping people connected. The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference recently released this Guide to Social Media for Parishes, which may be of assistance
Since the beginning of restrictions, many parishes have lamented the poor condition of their databases. Parishes are relying on electronic communication for most of their messaging and for the collection of donations. Some parishes are using communication applications such as Flocknote or their own websites to electronically collect as many email addresses as they can
Emails remain the most personal and effective way to distribute weekly livestreaming links, bulletins, humour, prayer resources and invitations to parish events
Mail-outs and phone calls are useful communication tools. Is it time for another letter to everyone in your parish, perhaps with a small inspirational prayer card or gift? You may also be assisted by this guide to making parish care calls.
The current suspension of Masses is likely to continue for a prolonged period. Whether or not your parish livestreams Mass, you might like to consider other forms of liturgy and prayer, such as Eucharistic adoration, praise and worship music, the Divine Office, the Rosary and online spiritual direction.
The emotional ramifications of prolonged social distancing and of asking people to isolate themselves and stay home are becoming more evident. How can we work against the effects of loneliness, boredom, stress, anxiety or hopelessness? Some tried and tested ideas include:
Many parishes that initially stopped offering faith-formation opportunities are now considering moving some of these online. It is fairly easy to gather people online, from the comfort of their homes, to meet, watch a short video and then discuss it together. These handy tips might be useful to parishes considering online formation opportunities.
You can still meet with people. You can still gather your leaders. You can still have pastoral-council, finance and liturgy-planning meetings.
Many parishes paused their leadership meetings and processes at the commencement of lockdown earlier this year. After five months, resuming a full schedule of leadership and governance meetings is both overdue and vital for the long-term health of your parish.
As this crisis continues unabated, people who were initially resistant to online meetings are now beginning to accept and even embrace this technology. Your leadership team can download a comprehensive resource on ministering during COVID-19 here.
Parishes are vital sources of connection, inspiration and love in the midst of an uncertain world. We can help by being present. We can help by sharing information that isn’t based in fear, but based in hope. We can help by providing a constant community for people to connect with and care for each other.
For more ideas on ministry during COVID-19 lockdown, see:
Before lockdown, our parish buildings were filled with weekly gatherings of people who pray, learn, socialise, minister and serve together. Weekly parish life during lockdown can have a pattern as well—for example:
We are available to discuss strategies with you and/or your team and to facilitate sessions (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just ask! Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melbourne Catholic19 November 2023
Melbourne Catholic17 November 2023