Two weeks ago, writing in the Newsletter, I expressed my opinion that if the level 3 restrictions were going to be extended that some new initiatives would need to be explored to connect parishioners, clergy, and ministry groups. We now know that for a further 3 weeks, at the very least, we will not be able to gather at the church, share the Eucharist in person or meet face to face. This is a hugely challenging moment for me personally, for most clergy and many parishioners. So, what can we do? Perhaps there are possibilities in becoming a competent ‘Digital Parish’ using the internet, web streaming, Zoom and Facebook more fully. Before suggesting any innovations, I would first applaud those who prepare the Parish News a couple of times a year and deliver it to every household, a huge amount of work. Also, those who prepare a weekly newsletter, and maintain a Website and a Facebook page.
I have been delighted in the way that many people have shared their positive experiences of participation in Mass and sacraments from the webcam. Yet there is a lot of room for improvement, we have a very basic older camera, the live feed sometimes disappears, and the recording services do not always work. We could, as a Parish, invest in a camera system that can zoom in and focus on different areas in the church. We can certainly explore which providers can enhance our experience. There would of course be a financial cost to any innovation.
We can also consider developing a Parish App, which would be similar to the website but make communications with parishioners and groups very fast, with parish information accessible via your mobile phone to access Parish communications, different ministry group, parish activities etc. Have a look at the Newbridge parish app if you would like to see an excellent example of this technology. Moving from paper to online could be part of our Eco-parish development.
We can explore new ways of having talks and meetings online as most work places are currently doing. This would allow groups to meet and priests and catechists virtual access to the classrooms of children preparing for sacraments, making online visits. We could use Zoom or a similar platform.
The Parish Council discussed these points on Tuesday and will quickly do some research and make definite proposals. They were very enthusiastic about Mount Merrion becoming a Digital Parish, bringing about wider connections and meeting parishioner needs as we navigate more lock down measures over the Winter months. I will ask the Finance Committee to assess whatever spending may be necessary. Then for all this to make an impact we will depend on parishioners to also adapt and change, to log in and watch, to join Zoom meetings and download the App, to cherish the connections we have with each other and to continue to innovate, move forward and build up the parish.