SEATTLE – Every Friday morning and evening — weather permitting — Father Jose Alvarez dons his purple stole and heads out to the parking lot at Holy Family Parish in Seattle’s White Center neighborhood to hear confessions.
Following guidelines established by the Archdiocese of Seattle, parishioners can sit in their cars for confession, or if they bring the whole family, the family members form a line and wait their turns so each can receive the sacrament properly, explained Father Alvarez, Holy Family’s pastor.
Father Alvarez has no difficulty hearing parishioners who confess from their cars; with the engine off, their voices carry to his seat behind a table. “They don’t have to yell,” he said.
Being able to offer spiritual guidance has been “very helpful for people” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Alvarez said.
Other parishes around the archdiocese have also found creative ways — in addition to livestreaming Masses — to stay connected with parishioners and help them stay spiritually grounded while Masses are suspended and the governor’s stay-at-home order is in place.
Those offerings include daily livestream prayer opportunities, videoconference catechesis sessions and even live musical prayer performances. Some parishes have called every one of their households to check in and ask about parishioners’ needs. Others are sending daily or weekly email communications to provide resources and keep parishioners up to date.
Prayer, faith formation
Father Michael Dion, priest administrator at St. Michael Parish in Snohomish, said he wanted to make it easy for his parishioners to stay connected to God during this time.
“We can’t really replace Mass for people, but we can find ways to enable people to pray,” Father Dion said.
So he has been livestreaming prayers on Facebook, including Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, the Angelus at noon, and the rosary every evening.
“Home is usually where faith begins,” Father Dion said, and even before COVID-19, he had been stressing the importance of families praying together.
At Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish, parishioners can virtually join in Catholicism 101 classes, Bible studies, the Catholic fiction book club and the parish’s small faith communities, said Zoltan Abraham, the parish’s pastoral assistant for adult faith formation.
The online gatherings are a way for parishioners to be spiritually refreshed as well as get a human connection by seeing and talking with others, he said.
“This is really, really important for those who live alone or don’t have family,” Abraham noted.
Parishioners can also pray the Regina Caeli and rosary at noon on weekdays, the Divine Mercy chaplet on Sunday afternoons and the rosary at 9 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday.
“People are very appreciative,” Abraham said.
Teens in youth programs at Olympia’s St. Michael Parish are participating in weekly Zoom meetings that include a Q-and-A on Catholicism with Father Lou Cunningham, the parochial vicar, the parish stated on the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Faith Formation Facebook page.
St. James Cathedral in Seattle is doing many things to stay connected with its parishioners, including weekly musical prayer livestream performances. It’s also beginning “Take another look,” a weekly virtual gathering for those who’ve been away from active participation in the church.
Preparation for first Communion (originally scheduled for April 26) has continued for children at three Tacoma parishes — St. Patrick, Holy Cross and St. Rita of Cascia — including a retreat that had to move online, said Kim Ward, pastoral assistant for faith formation.
With help from her team, Ward videotaped a lesson on the Mass for families to watch at home, and kits with materials were delivered to each family.
“It was all ready to go when the shutdown happened,” Ward said of the retreat. “We had to figure out how we could do this so the children didn’t miss out on the experience.”
Fun and phone calls
Coffee and doughnuts are an after-Mass tradition, and a virtual version continues at Bellevue’s St. Louise Parish during COVID-19.
“Coffee & Donuts, after Mass conversations,” is a YouTube live session with St. Louise’s pastor, Father Gary Zender, and its parochial vicar, Father Carlos Orozco.
“Father Gary and myself connect with our parishioners and they are able to interact with us via live chat,” Father Orozco said in an email. “We hit a topic, answer questions, and have a light moment of humor.”
Father Gary Zender, left, pastor of St. Louise Parish in Bellevue, and Father Carlos Orozco, St. Louise’s parochial vicar, host a YouTube live chat with parishioners after the parish’s weekend livestreamed Masses. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise Parish YouTube
Other parishes are going “low-tech,” using simple phone calls to reach out to their parishioners.
The staff at St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma has been calling all its parishioners to see if they have any needs. It’s “no small feat, over 2,000 households,” the parish noted on the archdiocesan Faith Formation Facebook page. “This has been well received, especially by those who do not use computers much,” the post continued.
At Seattle’s St. John the Evangelist Parish, the staff has been calling all 900 households, and has been able to connect some parishioners with needed services.
“The response has been so positive, with families happy to hear from their parish, and to know that we care and want to stay connected,” the parish said on its post on the Faith Formation Facebook page.
Father Dion, of St. Michael in Snohomish, views the stay-at-home order as an opportunity to ensure his parishioners know they aren’t alone, and technology is making that possible.
“No matter how far apart we are, we have community,” he said.