Chenango deacon leads rosary with people online or on their phones

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

For the deacon of Guilford, the “new rhythm” of life includes a slot for devotion.

As the COVID-19 lockdown began two months ago, Deacon Timothy O. McNerney felt that the people needed “a way to come together,” so he began Wednesday night rosary sessions joined by 10 to 20 people online or on their phones.

“It’s been a wonderful thing over the last two months,” he said, “to pray the rosary; every evening my wife and I pray it after supper. We find it to be a time of grace, a time of peace, and I think a time of healing; and … we’ve gotten into this new rhythm, which is so different from the past.”

One thing that remains the same is fervency. Last Wednesday night, from his study on Gospel Hill Road in Chenango County, the deacon led nine other people in the Scriptural Rosary of the Glorious Mysteries — “an hour of community prayer and sharing” of recent events that have inspired them.

“We have parishioners from throughout our Chenango County PCA participate because they can be included without having to travel all of the miles,” said Deacon Tim, who serves St. John the Evangelist Church in Bainbridge and St. Agnes Mission Church in Afton. At 7 p.m., the participants use Google Meet/Hangouts with their computer, tablet, or smartphone, or they simply dial in by phone.

“These are people that are really praying for an end” to the pandemic, the deacon said.

Some participants get to see the deacon superimposed on scenes projected behind him, such as a virtual tropical garden or a starry section of the heavens. “I’m in my study,” he said, “but the background is added like a green screen for the weatherman who is superimposed over a weather map!”

A ‘beautiful spirituality’

“Deacon Tim is a very gifted deacon in our diocese,” Deacon Dr. Robert Fangio, Diocesan Director of the Permanent Diaconate Program, wrote in an email. “He has a deep and beautiful spirituality along with great background knowledge in social media technology. Those two wonderful gifts coupled together are exactly what we need in our social-distance worship these days. Deacon Tim is just the one to deliver!”

Like Deacon Tim, Deacon Bob reveres the rosary.

“Known for its great power in taking our prayer intentions to the Lord through our Blessed Mother,” Deacon Bob wrote, “the rosary is one of the most effective tools in our prayer arsenal during this difficult time. When the rosary is prayed as a group, whether in person or in a virtual setting, there is a beautiful and comforting intimacy that is created with Mary and those who pray through her.”

Last Wednesday from his home of 44 years (with chickens), eight miles up the hill from Oxford, Deacon Tim invited his rosary group to think about “what life used to be like two months ago when things were kind of normal” and also what life is going to be like as things go forward.

Then he led the Wednesday Rosary of Hope and Celebration at a pace that kept everyone reasonably synchronous. He concluded with Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s Novena Prayer for an End to the Coronavirus Pandemic, which includes a request to the Blessed Mother to “watch over all who are sick as well as those who care for them and give wisdom to all who are seeking a cure.”

Like a caring teacher soliciting input from the class, Deacon Tim then asked for prayer intentions — “no sermon; we just talk a little bit.”

Joan DiChiara, of Bainbridge, who works in customer service for the Mirabito Group, sought prayers for a customer down toward the Hudson Valley who is recovering from COVID-19.

DiChiara also requested prayers for “all the mothers for Mother’s Day,” and she related that about three weeks ago, a shopper whom she allowed to go ahead of her in line left $20 with the cashier to pay for her groceries. “That’s something,” one of the listeners in the rosary group said.

Gaby Pysnik, of Sidney, who lives in the Diocese of Albany but is a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist, offered a prayer intention for a new doctor who is the son of Pysnik’s cousin in Ireland. Deacon Tim said he is glad she mentioned that because he is aware of the COVID-19 statistics coming out of Great Britain.

The lesson of the robin

Jean Davis, of Bainbridge, said the mother robin that lives in the rhododendron in front of her window shows that “God is really great; he has helped this little bird to take care of that nest and make sure that it’s covered from the rain. … How much more important are we, that he truly will take care of us and make us find a way.”

Deacon Tim told the virtual gathering that officiating at a burial service for Catherine Daly a week ago Saturday had a “profound impact” on him.

He said the deceased had lived in South Carolina for a number of years but was a parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Greene, Chenango County.

“For me,” he said, “the graveside service was my first liturgical function in over two months! And my, how things have changed: face masks, social distancing, and all.”

That burial service, he said, was “such an eye-opener, thinking about what it used to be like in the past, and where we might be for the next — who knows? Three, four, six, eight months, a year; who knows, right?”

But it’s only a week until his next virtual rosary session. “I appreciate the time you spent this evening,” he told the nine other participants. “We’ll meet again next Wednesday night.” He blessed them and they said goodbye.

Asked about feedback from the rosary group, Deacon Tim said:

“They keep coming back every week; that’s all the feedback I need.”

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