When the initial quarantine began, we turned to technology to indiscriminately fill the gaps that had been created in our communication. Social media and online Mass broadcasts provided a means to reach multitudes of people at once with a single, all-encompassing message. This technology has borne some incredible fruit at our parish and we will continue to invest in our online “campus.”
But as time has gone on, we have also begun to realize the role of personal communication as a necessary complement to our broad messaging in this time of isolation. This shouldn’t really be news to anyone. Human beings thrive on social contact with others, it’s in our DNA. If doing ministry means communicating a relationship with Jesus to another person, then much will always be dependent on personal interaction.
The downside is that personal contact is expensive – in terms of time, effort, and energy, especially if all that responsibility falls on the pastor. You can avoid burnout in two ways. First, clergy should share this duty with staff or volunteer ministers, if possible. Second, clever use of technology can facilitate these types of personal interactions and make them sustainable. For example, while I could never personally greet everyone who walked in our doors on a weekend, our online greeter ministers can engage with everyone who watches online through a chat box (more on that below).
Our strategy has been to push the boundaries of technology while also going old-school with personal contact. Below, you’ll find a few other things we’ve been doing to keep up personal contact among our members and guests.
Personal touches have been a staple of corporate hospitality and even of our own weekend strategy here at Nativity for years. While we can’t meet in person, our strategy has shifted to making the online Mass broadcast as personal as possible. Online ‘chat ministers’ engage viewers in the chat box that accompanies each Mass. Chat ministers greet guests by name and help lead them in worship.
One strategy for our communication with givers has been tailored to their method of giving. For those with recurring, automatic gifts, we have continued our practice of thanking them for their gift by mail and email. For those who usually give by envelope at Mass, we mailed pre-addressed envelopes for those who might want to continue giving while our campus is closed. By going that extra mile to making giving easier, we communicated to our givers that we are thinking of them. This last strategy has been especially fruitful.
One of the most unfortunate restrictions of the quarantine was that many of the usual routines of senior year and graduation have been disrupted. What was supposed to be a memorable spring for many has instead been forgettable period of solitude. Our Student Ministry Team came up with a great way to personally recognize graduating seniors. For each student, they made a special care package and are in the process of delivering them to their homes (while social distancing).
While many of the elderly members of our parish have reported that they have tuned in and benefited from our online Mass broadcasts, we recognize that not all of them are accustomed to communicating in that way. The elderly are especially important to reach because many of them live alone and will likely stay home from in-person gatherings for longer than everyone else. For all these reasons, I am currently in the process of calling our 80+ parishioners.
Most all of our staff have been working from home full-time for a couple of months and we’ve started to notice a ‘fatigue’ setting in from the isolation and impersonal nature of work. That’s why, over the course of a couple of weeks, I met by video chat for a personal conversation with each of our staff members. This check-in allowed me to catch up and offer support and encouragement.
If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 crisis, it is that personal communication in ministry remains important and life-giving. The lessons we’re learning about personal contact extend beyond forced quarantine, and we are looking to continue many of these strategies beyond.