By Fr Francis Onyango IMC
For many of us church has been like our second home, a place where we visit for solace when times are hard, a place where we feel free and comfortable to spend time and interact with fellow Christians and sometimes even after service we enjoy to hang around bonding with each other as we nurture our family spirit.
Sunday for many years has been our day of obligation, a day set apart for the worship of God and we naturally wake up geared for church. Then Corona virus came along and our church services were suspended; government placed restriction on gatherings and travels and God’s people were left unsure of what to do. Breaking a long held tradition isn’t always easy and this was one such tradition; waking up on a Sunday morning without a clue of what to do or where to go or how to spend the day was the most boring thing to happen on a Sunday.
Priests were hit hard by it and so were the Christians. We then begun to think of possible ways on how best to minister to our people in such circumstances. Many dioceses and individual parishes are already trying ways on how to stay in touch with their people during this time so that the faithful are not spiritually starved. So at Sts Peter and Paul we decided to define means and ways on how to stay and remain connected to the people of God and continue journeying together with them especially during this difficult time.
For a start, we requested all our parishioners to send us their names; we asked for the names of every soul in our parish from the youngest infant to the senior most citizen of the community. Within four days, almost all the names had been submitted and by Saturday a total of 405 names were already pinned on our parish benches. The idea was to make our people know that they are not forgotten; that even though they will not be able to sit on their favourite Sunday benches, their names will be there in their place and that Mass will still be offered for them. The presence of these names pinned on the benches is a sign of the longing of our people to be part of the celebration but due to the circumstances we find ourselves in, they can only be there in spirit.
We therefore asked them, to keep our Sunday time for Mass sacred without substituting it with anything else. As a result, every Sunday between 9 am and 10 am all our parishioners are called to join together in the celebration from their respective places. A guideline was sent to them on how to go about the service on their own. The joy with this is that members feel that they are not just alone, but they are together with their priests and the whole community as they worship God; that we may not be gathered together as a family in one physical place, but that we remain united in spirit in our different locations. It was quite interesting to hear the sharing of some members regarding their experience especially the feeling and the knowledge that as one prays back at home, they are united with many other parishioners and that in their prayers they are also united in the celebration of the Mass which the priests offer for them at the parish where their names are pinned.
In addition to the Sunday moment of prayer, we have also increased our moments of adoration from monthly to weekly and now every Thursday between 7 pm to 8 pm, the parish community will come together again not physically but united in spirit to pray. During this moment, as people pray back at home, the priests will move from bench to bench mentioning the names of the parishioners one by one and offering them to the Lord in the Eucharist. Our members are encouraged to be united with their priests at this moment of adoration to offer their prayers since at that very moment the priests will be offering them individually and in a very special way to the Lord in the Eucharist. A guideline on how to go about this session of adoration will also be sent to them.
Other than the Sunday Mass and the Thursday adoration, we have also decided to send reflections to them every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; these reflections are based on the readings of the day and are meant to help them in their spiritual journey. We hope this time of Staying Away will help us find more time to be with God in prayer and in his Word.
Even though this may seem to work, for now the challenge remains on how to reach our parishioners who are not on social media for they too need the spiritual accompaniment. Nevertheless, as the wise men say: ‘half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.’ We live in hope and trust that this situation will soon pass away and the people of God will get back to occupy their benches where for now only their names are pinned!