By Deacon Tom Picciano | Contributing writer
VESTAL — “Hello everybody!”
Father James Serowik gives a cordial welcome for each “A Pastor’s Message” that appears on the St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament website.
The daily video is just one of a variety of ways started up to keep in contact with parishioners since life went on “pause” due to COVID-19. One of his recent presentations was a Mother’s Day tribute. His dog Cosmo appears by his side in many of the videos found at www.stvbs.org.
“Our parish’s most creative outreach is Father Jim’s daily message,” said Greg Hrostowski, parish trustee. “Keeping us informed and challenged to participate via prayer with new information, and updates on church activities.”
Kelly Soprano is Director of Music and Liturgy. She has taken on the role of internet producer for “A Pastor’s Message” and Sunday Masses. She assists with other programs as well.
“We are making do with the physical equipment that we have, mostly including personal cell phones and computers,” Soprano noted, “which are not the most ideal for some of our current operations.”
And she cited other issues: “Keeping in touch with people who are without technology, or trying to help them set up and understand the technology from a distance.”
“Holding group music rehearsals has not been possible yet,” Soprano said of using technology with the choir, “although I have been able to send music and recordings via email and encouraging rehearsals at home.”
Mary Pat Hyland is webmaster at St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament. She also coordinates the new parish app. The key to her work is “flexibility and patience” in a time when “social media is a critical ministry.”
“We try to bridge the physical distance from our parishioners with virtual access to the Mass, comforting messages from Father Jim, meditative posts on our deacon’s blog, musical reflections from our music director, and ideas on how to use this time to grow spiritually through the wonderful ‘His Way @ Home series,’” Hyland said.
“Once I see something has been posted on another platform, I carry it over to the website and app,” she said. “Push alerts sent out on the app keep parishioners informed of the latest updates.”
“Holy Week was a big challenge,” she added, “including our first live Mass broadcast on Easter Sunday. We also connected parishioners with live broadcasts from Bishop Lucia and Pope Francis during that time.”
Faith Formation Coordinator Tori Reynolds has been working with Director of Evangelization Gretchen Matt on the weekly “His Way @ Home” videos. In last week’s video, just in time for Mother’s Day, Reynolds pointed out that Matt is her mom. They issued a challenge for displays honoring viewers’ mothers and grandmothers.
Parishioner Marilee Beyer responded by sharing a photo of her display and a story about her deceased 101-year-old mother-in-law that had an effect onher husband.
“When she was in the nursing home, she would be interrupted when saying her rosary. She got in the habit of using a clothespin to save her place. As I put her rosary by her picture today, I added the clothespin. That alone brought Marty to tears,” Beyer wrote.
“We’ve had many positive comments and shared stories of how it has helped individuals and families during this difficult time. And it is actually reaching all age groups!” Matt said.
Deacon Tony Miller, who has an IT background, made the switch to online ministry very quickly, after obtaining permission from publishers to use some of their material.
“I have been using video to serve parishioners in a liturgical way,” he said, “with live-streamed Stations of the Cross and recorded Divine Mercy novena.”
The Zoom platform has gotten a lot of use too, for parish council, finance committee, grief support, and choir. And it’s being used for Evening Prayer twice a week for the pastor, deacons, and Greg Hrostowski, who is studying for the diaconate.
While high-tech has jumped forward quite quickly at the parish, there are other ways people are being reached.
“I do more listening and calling on friends, family, and parishioners to see how they are doing and to listen to concerns and worries out there,” Hrostowski said.
He is among the Eucharistic ministers who in normal times visit the homebound and those in nursing homes and hospitals; now they are calling to make contact. The pastor and deacons are also on the phone most days to speak to a number of parishioners. Hospital visits are not possible in person. The clergy in some cases are able to find out when parishioners are hospitalized and call their rooms.
It is difficult to write a piece on my parish in this time of the virus without taking a personal aside. When we met as a staff just before things closed down, each person had an idea how to contribute to keep connected. I volunteered to write a blog.
I’ve had a lot of opportunity for prayer, reflection, and silence. That’s awakened a desire to write something new each day for the parishioners.
While each blog includes something to draw the readers in, it also connects them to Scripture and the faith. From the first, “For weeks now it has been evening,” to “Give us today our Daily Bread,” a tribute to Mom’s baking for Mother’s Day, I pray the messages bring hope in the time of this pandemic.
To connect with all that’s mentioned above at St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament, visit www.stvbs.org.
Deacon Tom Picciano is a journalist who has been writing for the Catholic Sun for 21 years. He’s assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament Church in Vestal.