XENIA — Local churches have found myriad ways to adapt to the ever-changing times during the coronavirus pandemic.
When the Catholic Bishops of Ohio canceled all public masses through Easter, Fr. Andrew Cordonnier — pastor for St. Augustine in Jamestown, St. Brigid in Xenia, and St. Paul in Yellow Springs — decided to record daily masses for YouTube and Facebook Live. Never in 2,000 years of the Catholic church’s existence have church leaders canceled masses before now, Cordonnier said he believes.
Emmanuel Baptist Church in Xenia is also using YouTube for services and has encouraged its small groups to continue to meet using whatever online method works best.
“We can rejoice today even in the state of the world as it is,” Cordonnier said during a recorded homily last Sunday. “We live in rather unprecedented times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Through the magic of television, YouTube, Facebook, we can do these things online now so that’s a good thing, but people can’t physically be at mass.”
So far, Benediction and Adoration, Sunday services, daily masses and spiritual talks have been uploaded to the Fr. Andrew Cordonnier YouTube channel, as well as on the St. Brigid Catholic Church (@StBrigidXenia) Facebook page.
“The most challenging part of this crisis is trying to keep our parishioners connected to the church,” Cordonnier said by email. “This is a challenging time, but technology in the digital age helps keep people engaged. We have had several hundred people livestream Sunday mass, and our Youtube videos are uploaded every day.”
Emmanuel has made its YouTube services available on demand once it’s aired live. Be it live or recorded, it’s been well-received, according to Elder Van Holloway.
“A good percentage of our congregation is doing that with us so that’s been good,” he said. The services also pause for two or three minutes to allow families to pray individually at home.
“We give them prayer topics,” Holloway said. “That’s been a positive.”
Emmanuel has found other ways to engage the congregation as well. Last week the church leadership challenged its members to call four other members and check in on them. This past week the project was called Overwhelming Hospitality and involved writing notes and making Easter decorations for church members at Hospitality Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation. Church members also thanked Hospitality staff with cookies.
“It’s really hard,” Holloway said. “Nursing facilities are hit really hard. They can’t do any communal activities.”
Along with social media, websites have also proved useful tools for the churches.
The Catholic churches have listed times for when Cordonnier and Fr. John Madanu are offering more confessions, holy hours, and private prayer in church on Facebook and at stbrigidxenia.org.
“We are here for you,” Cordonnier wrote in a letter to congregants. “Please don’t be afraid to get a hold of us at 937-372-3193. Now more than ever, we must unite all of our prayers on behalf of our sick and suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Emmanuel has placed a new link on its website for those in need of pastoral care.
“It goes straight to one of our deacons,” Holloway said. “The deacon can decide if its something he can fix. He knows where to correct that need. Most of it’s happening through conversations.”
Holloway said pastors are still available in person and are treating those on a case-by-case basis.
“Sometimes a phone call works,” he said.
Cordonnier has also changed how he will lead during Holy Week. He plans to bless palms for people to pick up outside church on Palm Sunday, and plans to record Holy Week masses as well.
“This way everyone can tune in and be a part of our church,” he said. “This will definitely be a memorable Holy Week.”
The priest is confident his parishioners will get through this — if they stay positive and pray.
“It might seem counter-intuitive but perhaps this crisis will actually help people to grow closer to God. One of the good things about this crisis is that many people are spending more time in prayer, myself included,” Cordonnier wrote. ” … I love to adore the Blessed Sacrament and not only pray for my people, but also for all of those affected by Covid-19. We have been praying a novena to St. Roch, the patron saint of serious illness, to ask for healing for our world. We need the healing grace of Our Blessed Lord now more than ever. We will get through this with the grace of God.”
Holloway added that Emmanuel’s slogan is “Honoring God, Loving People.”
“With all the restrictions we can’t do, we can still do that,” he said.
Call these reporters at 937-372-4444.