In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning in earnest, there were many questions about what would happen in the Catholic Church if people’s lives were upended in such profound ways. In many respects, we may not truly understand the ramifications of a worldwide change in perspective until we can look back at it. That being said, with “the return to normal,” the opening up of parishes, and the re-starting of activities have come questions about what we have learned from this pandemic experience. I think many of us re-learned that community and connection are important. The question that seems to be challenging folks is: Now that we can start to plan to meet in person, what should our parish activities look like?
For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of doing Master’s work in Church Management at Villanova University. Most of my studies occurred during this pandemic and offered a unique perspective of what effective parishes and communities have done to respond to a sudden shift in the assumptions of what the Church in the United States looks and acts like. Most of the parishes that were able to weather the storm well were able to do so because they were intentional about what community is and should be. They did not assume that a parish had to be only the functions that happen within a city block or a singular location, but rather can have an online presence and remotely meet people where they are. I think of my friends and colleagues with young families or who have long commutes and the complications that our parishes can impose on people who would like to be involved, but cannot be due to the lives that they lead. Are we as church leaders imposing certain restrictions for the members of the parish to be able to build a community?
As active Catholics, our job is to share the joy of the Gospel that we hopefully have experienced with others. The pandemic has proven that there is a desire for community and for Christ in people’s lives despite barriers. However, we as Catholics also need to acknowledge that if we “are now just going back to normal,” we are also going back to the normal of an older and smaller church. We need to see the pandemic not as a temporary event, but rather the opportunity that God has given us to think creatively and reflectively over the past year about what it means to be Catholic in the United States. Similarly, what is our hope for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States? If we do not think about these things, we risk becoming a closed community for only those who are already active members.
There were many challenges during the pandemic, but there were opportunities to grow and learn for our Church as well. My hope is that we take the lessons that we have learned, both positive and negative, about what it means to be in a community and to be community leaders and apply those findings in healthy, creative ways going forward.
For more resources on navigating COVID-19 as a community, please click here.