Closer, But Not Quite

Closer, But Not Quite

Photo Credit: Sincerely Media, Unsplash

How one parish and its community has come together while social distancing

Julliana Santos, The Mike Copy Editor

As of late June, places of worship have been slowly re-opening their doors to in-person activities and mass. Today, church services are running in a more regular but modified way, to ensure that people maintain social distancing during worship. Still, the risk of going to church, of preparing to leave home, wear a mask, come with family, and attend in-person, can feel daunting for many parishioners. 

In Fr. John Sullivan’s homily, from Our Lady of Lourdes’ Sunday mass at 11:30 a.m., October 4, he addresses this feeling of isolation, of distance – not just socially, but in terms of uncertainty. In the first part of his homily, he shares that “the feeling is almost like I’m on a lake in the wintertime. I’m in the exact middle of the lake and there’s ice. And I know beneath the ice is this deep, dark, cold water. Danger. As I stand on the ice, all I hear is the cracking of the ice.” 

I remember looking out to the rest of the congregation as he spoke. People in their masks listened intently as they continued to observe the social-distancing requirements, strictly enforced within the service. People sit in alternate pews, with every other pew closed off. Families sit together, but everyone else remains 6 feet apart. There is only one entrance and one exit door, which people file through at the start and end of mass, cautiously – their numbers are smaller since there are limits to how many people can attend, based on online reservations. After mass, as people leave, volunteers stay to sanitize every surface, with gloves and disinfectant, in preparation for the next mass. In all of these elements, these new precautions, it is possible to feel, as Fr. John says that, the knowledge “that God is present and that God’s love is a merciful love, is not always so easy for me, and perhaps, for you, to know within ourselves.”

The ice cracks, but then there is a stillness that stirs a steady movement of hope in community. The Our Lady of Lourdes community has, beyond in-person mass and social distancing precautions, reached out to its parishioners in love and inclusion. At the back of the church, there is a camera, installed specifically to record daily mass and live stream the 11:30 a.m. Sunday mass for people to watch at home. On their church website, the guidelines, and accommodations for people in this time of the pandemic are clearly and informatively laid out. There are online streams and videos for Lourdes’ “Kids at mass” program, and the parish office doors, phones, and contacts are open for people with any concerns. Volunteers from all walks of life give their time and care to help uphold and uplift the church services, both online and in-person. 

People smile – I can see it even as their masks hide their faces. They wave from a distance, and though they can’t sing (singing in the congregation is prohibited to reduce the projection of particles) and although the distribution of the eucharist constant is a walk of social distance on the markers on the floor, and we sit apart, we are nonetheless united. Fr. John closes his homily with words that resound with the people, in-person, online, and in the future as they watch the recordings at home – “And be not afraid, church, because if the ice is cracking, we are not alone. Our great God, our most beautiful God, is here. And He is here because He is our Father. Our Father is here because you are here.”