Blessed are the Zoomers

The coronavirus has seen a growing number of lapsed, irregular and curious churchgoers join a congregation using online technology.

By dipping their toes in digital worship, people can enter a church discretely before making a commitment with their feet, said Sydney Catholic Schools ’ chaplain, Father Gary Perritt.

“It’s a big thing if you haven’t been to Church for two, five, 20 years,” Fr Gary said.

“For some people to physically step through the door and start going to Mass again may be frightening. They may not have a sense of what to do, or may feel they will be judged.”

Fr Gary said online Masses have also opened up the doors of churches to people who are sick, aged, and young families with children who aren’t always able to attend for practical reasons, for example their child is sleeping.

“The Archbishop’s Easter Sunday ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral was watched by over a million people – the Cathedral, if it’s full, holds less than a thousand,” Fr Gary said.

“Zoom is a great innovation and a great support for priests working in these strange times” – Father Gary Perritt

He is hopeful that now churches in the Archdiocese of Sydney have re-opened, more parishioners than ever will attend Masses physically as well. This includes those who have had their curiosity piqued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It calls on the regulars to welcome and go out of their way to include them. To speak to them, to say ‘Hello, I’ve not seen you here before’,” he gently reminded. “Your welcome can do wonders for the practising of their faith,” Fr Gary said.

Sydney Catholic Schools' chaplain Father Gary Perritt

Sydney Catholic Schools’ chaplain Father Gary Perritt. Photo: Kitty Beale

Currently churches may have up to 50 people inside at a time for Masses, private prayer, confessions, baptisms, funerals, Eucharistic Adoration, Rosary in common, Bible study, etcetera, subject to distancing requirements. But as of Wednesday 1 July these restrictions will be further eased under the four-square-metre rule.

“You can still have them (weddings) but the preference has been to postpone them,” added Fr Gary. “I have 2021 dates now, instead of 2020.”

Evangelism during COVID

“COVID has given us new ways to evangelise that we’ve rarely used before,” said Fr Gary, who lives in St Brigid’s Marrickville, a monastic community of 16 ordained men of The Passionists religious order. Like the rest of us, they too are practising social distancing.

“We’ve seen all sorts of outreach from the closed churches. Parish council meetings and prayer groups being held on Zoom, and priests streaming live Masses on YouTube.”

A black laptop, Bibles and religious iconography

Photo: Grant Whitty on Unsplash.

“Since the first online Masses several months ago broadcasting has got quite professional,” Fr Gary said.

“Masses now have sound clips, and people are reading Scripture readings from home and that is being inserted into the broadcast.”

Priests in the Archdiocese of Sydney have also taken to Zoom, to have a moment of communion with their fellow clergymen.

“We now have regular Zoom meetings with Archbishop Anthony Fisher,” said Fr Gary.

“COVID has given us new ways to evangelise that we’ve rarely used before” – Father Gary Perritt

The first Zoom Clergy Conference in the Archdiocese of Sydney was held on 9 April.

“Zoom is a great innovation and a great support for priests working in these strange times,” Fr Gary said.

“There’s no reason that these meetings – and online Masses – couldn’t continue as a great unifier post-COVID.”

Register for Mass

The Federal Government’s 3-step COVID-19 framework released on 8 May 2020 currently requires every religious gathering to record the contact details of attendees.

By registering your contact details and the parish you usually attend, you are helping to keep yourself and your fellow parishioners safe by making contact tracing easier if someone tests positive for the coronavirus at your church.

Whether you are going to church for private prayer, confession or Mass, you are asked to please register at bit.ly/2V4JYbu.

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