New strategies help parishes evangelize, connect during pandemic
July 9, 2020
Eric Derickson has a story to tell.
It’s an important story, and he’s eager to share it. It’s the story of his conversion to the Catholic faith.
It involves the influence of Catholic relatives when he was young; a high school band class he shared with a future seminarian and a cute girl named Samantha, who would later become his wife; her father, who was excited about Derickson’s interest in the faith; and much more.
Some of those influences he calls “small Catholic ‘water drops.’”
Over time, those drops combined to form a stream that continues to swell as the Dericksons raise their two children in the community of Holy Family Parish in Cedar County, teach a fifth-grade religious education class together and become increasingly involved in their parish.
For Derickson, part of that involvement has been sharing his conversion story. Thanks to his parish, some of its talented members and his pastor, Father James Keiter, Derickson was able to witness his encounter with the Lord even during a pandemic.
The parishes of All Saints and Holy Family in Cedar County and St. Rose of Lima in Crofton, all led by Father Keiter, have been recording parishioners’ inspirational video testimonies and sharing them through Flocknote, a web application for distributing emails and text.
Other parishes, likewise, have remained committed to finding ways to stay connected and evangelize, despite being physically separated because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Christ the King Parish in Omaha has been featuring parishioners in its bulletin as a way for members to get to know each other better. St. James Parish, also in Omaha, has posted interviews with parishioners on Facebook.
The bulletin articles at Christ the King began on Easter Sunday and were intended to run every week through the Easter season, as a way for people to connect with each other, said Juli Kaftan, a hospitality volunteer at the parish who puts them together.
They proved to be a success and will continue less frequently, once a month, in ordinary liturgical time and perhaps return to the weekly format during Advent, she said.
Stories have featured young and old, new parishioners and multigenerational families. They were asked questions such as what drew them to Christ the King, how the parish has impacted their lives, and what gifts they have shared.
Parishioners have learned about one other and been inspired, Kaftan said. The articles have provided “ways to witness and encourage each other.”
Father Marcus Knecht, who became associate pastor at St. Gerald Parish in Ralston effective July 1, was the force behind the Facebook interviews at St. James, where he also had been associate pastor.
He said he wanted parishioners to have a way to keep in touch while isolating themselves physically.
Father Knecht said he, too, sought a range of parishioners to interview, including parents teaching from home, a couple preparing for marriage who had to reschedule their wedding, elderly people, single people – people “of all different cultures, backgrounds and ages,” he said.
He dubbed the video series “Experiences and Insights.”
HUNDREDS OF VIEWERS
The videos communicated parishioners’ personal images, including some of kids doing homework and families going on a rainy-day walk, singing “Happy Birthday” to a neighbor or picking up sticks in the neighborhood.
“It was a fun project, and I’m glad I did it,” Father Knecht said.
In all, he had about 25 videos on Facebook, initially posting four per week. Once public Masses resumed and people could reconnect more, the videos became less frequent.
Each one garnered 200 to 600 views, he said.
Lauren Lehmkuhl, who is also a member of Holy Family Parish in Cedar County, helped put together the video that featured Derickson’s testimony.
It also included the story of her journey into the Church, which began when she met her fiancé, Jamie Kathol, two years ago. Lehmkuhl started going to Mass with him, and he became her sponsor for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Lehmkuhl had already been baptized. She fully entered the Catholic Church in February, receiving the sacraments of confirmation and first holy Communion.
Once the pandemic hit, she said, she missed being at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Bow Valley.
“I really enjoy going to Mass,” Lehmkuhl said. She said it’s her favorite part of her new faith.
She said the videos helped keep her connected and included airings of the Stations of the Cross and Mass.
But nothing beats physically attending public Masses, which have now resumed, she said. “It’s a whole game changer.”
David Loecker, a leadership team member who helped implement the testimonial videos, said he enjoys hearing the witness of people new to the Church or others who explain what eucharistic adoration means to them.
“I love looking at the testimonies,” he said. “I remember why I like adoration, why I’m happy to be in church and be baptized.”
“It’s been awesome,” Father Keiter said.
He said his goal for his parishes during the pandemic has been to become even stronger in faith, despite less access to sacraments and being forced apart physically.
He, associate pastor Father An Duy Phan and parish leaders have been encouraging members to read Scripture and participate in eucharistic adoration.
The priests’ rural parishes issued a daily Scripture challenge: to spend about five minutes a day reading three-to-five paragraphs of sacred Scripture. After about 10 weeks, about 1,100 parishioners from the three parishes and seven churches were wrapping up an Acts of the Apostles Bible study.
Especially for those who can’t receive holy Communion, “Jesus is still present in Scripture,” Father Keiter said. “We can’t read Scripture and not encounter Him.”
The parishes also are ramping up eucharistic adoration, offering more hours to participate and using the video testimonies to encourage members.
Those efforts are welcomed by people like Lehmkuhl and Derickson, who are eager to learn and introduce people to the Christ they encountered.
“It is always cool to reflect on how God has put people into my life and how it has shaped my life,” Derickson said. “I could keep going on and on …”