CHESHIRE — With attendance still restricted at St. Bridget of Sweden Parish because of pandemic restrictions, clergy have expanded use of social media to keep parishioners engaged.
“We had to get creative in finding ways that they could be together,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Romans. The church’s use of videos, blog posts and Facebook discussions were recognized in the most recent edition of The Catholic Transcript, a monthly magazine of the Hartford Archdiocese.
Though places of worship have been permitted to hold in-person services since July, they continue to be limited to either 25 percent capacity or 100 people total. The capacity requirement has split St. Bridget’s usual four Sunday Masses into seven sessions, each of which fill up and prevent some worshippers from being able to attend in person.
Before the pandemic, the church was using social media to connect with parishioners who were unable to make it to worship services and others who might be interested in joining. The longtime “Apologetics 101” series, hosted by Parochial Vicar Anthony Federico on Thursdays, goes over details of the Catholic faith.
Romans hosts cooking shows and a “Beyond the Bulletin” video series, where parishioners respond to a question like “What’s your favorite game.” The “Pulling Back the Veil” series gives a behind the scenes look at the work church staff does outside of organized worship.
Music Director Julia Atwood also began organizing monthly request concerts, where parishioners request some of their favorite hymns and sing along to them with the choirs Atwood leads. The concerts allow worshippers to sing along at home, since singing is prohibited during in-person services due to increased risk of transmitting COVID-19.
“Hearing the familiar music is something that roots them in their community and singing together as a congregation. Theologically it's a sign of our unity in Christ, but emotionally it's a sign of our unity in our community,” she said.
All of the efforts at St. Bridget stuck out to the Hartford Archdiocese, which highlighted the church in The Catholic Transcript as part of a new series “that will focus on new ways churches are helping parishioners discover, follow and stay connected to Christ when many people are isolated and struggling with fear and uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The restrictions of gatherings amid the pandemic have prompted priests to explore new ways of ministering, said Karen A. Avitabile, the Transcript’s editor. Other churches in the state she’s writing about have also done cooking videos, outdoors holiday events, and online catechism and confirmation classes.
The Church of St. Dominic in Southington has placed a prayer wall so people can write intentions to be prayed upon in church. The Parish Of Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Manchester has erected an inflatable screen to project services, with an FM radio station playing the audio.
“There’s just a lot of different ways that our priests have become extremely creative to keep in touch with their flock, if you want to call it, and it’s necessary. And they have risen to the occasion of keeping people engaged with the lord in a time that prayer is especially needed,” Avitabile said.