By NICHOLE GOLDEN, ANDREW NELSON and SAMANTHA SMITH | Published April 2, 2020
ATLANTA–Scores of believers filled the parking lot of St. Pius X Church, Conyers, for outdoor Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until local public health restrictions made it impossible to gather.
Father Adam Blatt organized the services and said at one service there were 50 cars crammed with families, representing every age group.
“I have never seen as many young people hungry for the Eucharist as I did during this,” he wrote in an email.
Under a tent, a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament was surrounded by candles. It lasted about a week before new shelter-in-place rules were adopted.
Father Blatt said that at the church’s last public Mass, “I could see the look of fear and disappointment in the eyes of our people.”
He challenged himself to create creative ways to serve his community. If there can be drive-up confession, why not ‘drive-in’ adoration, he wondered.
“I had no idea the response would be so great,” said Father Blatt.
He’s now starting Lunch with Father, a public livestream, where people can join him on a virtual lunch date.
“It gives the parishioners a chance to get to know me better. I tell them they can ask me anything, and I invite them to bring and eat their own lunch at that time as well,” he said.
The parish is even hosting what he called a “digital mini-mission” since its Lenten mission was canceled.
“Now that we aren’t allowed to gather it does make it difficult for some of those more creative things, but we are making do and trying to think outside the box, so to speak,” he said.
From religious ed to rosaries
Parish priests and their staff have been prompted by the virus outbreak to find new ways of serving from providing faith formation to meeting spiritual needs.
Sue Balcom works in religious education for St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn.
“In religious education, this virus has been what God has been preparing us for since August,” said Balcom.
In their staff meetings, they have explored ways to help parents encounter Christ so they can lead their children to Christ. Each week they share simple ways to bring prayer and the graces of reconciliation and Eucharist into family time.
This family-driven model also teaches parents to use technology to understand their Catholic faith. Staff at St. John Neumann have helped parents download YouCat, and connected them to Aleteia, EWTN Kids programming and SuperBook Bible videos.
Now that in-person religious education programs are canceled throughout the archdiocese, it’s vital that parents have the tools of the modern world that “begin the conversations at home about God being the center of our life,” said Balcom.
Technology is playing a key role in connecting people to the Catholic Church. Many parishes are livestreaming Mass or devotions such as Stations of the Cross.
Holy Family Church in Marietta has a livestream rosary on Fridays at 3 p.m. Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch is hosting Fireside Chats with its pastor live on Facebook. They are also hosting a live Trivia Night on YouTube with prizes including Instacart gift cards for grocery delivery.
Until a recently issued stay-at-home order Gwinnett County, St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Lilburn, had offered extended hours of eucharistic adoration.
Father Brian Lorei, pastor, said the parish staff has had to find creative ways to continue to serve people in helping with sacramental emergencies and providing what he calls “spiritual healthcare.”
St. Stephen the Martyr staff members are contacting by phone its parishioners, particularly the seniors, and finding out if they have local family support and whether they need assistance.
“This pandemic is not only attacking people physically, but spiritually and emotionally, as well,” said Father Lorei in an email. “As priests and as people of faith, we cannot be fearful to the point we lose our trust in God. We must be the ones who show our patience, courage and trust in God, and so be an example to all those around us.
He knows it’s been said that with every cross, there is a purpose and a victory.
“Perhaps the purpose with the spread of this virus is to encourage people to be more dependent upon God our Father,” said the pastor. “Our ultimate protection is in prayer. Prayer is the tried and true vaccine. So, let us not be carried away on a wave of fear, but learn to turn to God in prayer and to seek his protection not only in this problem, but in every problem of life.”
Hours of adoration
St. Brendan the Navigator Church, Cumming, is still able to provide extended hours of adoration. Its pastor Father Matthew VanSmoorenburg, LC, hopes to continue the extended adoration through April 19.
Initially 70 additional hours were added to the weekly adoration schedule, with more being added this week. Don Conklin, the parish’s director of adult faith formation, is coordinating the extended adoration.
Adorers must sign-up through a link on the parish website. Adoration is held in the main sanctuary to allow ample room for social distancing.
Parishioner Andrea Shrote signed up for the extended adoration and hopes the parish will continue when its new chapel opens.
She was laid-off from a part-time job and is spending more time in prayer.
“My friend’s family lives in New York, the epicenter of infections. That prompted me to dedicate every adoration attendance to a specific grief that is arising out of the pandemic,” said Shrote in an email.
For Nicole Madda, St. Brendan parishioner, daily Mass and adoration are big parts of her life.
She is an emergency room nurse for Northside Hospital and signed up for an hour of adoration daily before work to pray for the Catholic Church and other concerns.
“I keep all my patients in my prayers, for those sick and suffering of coronavirus, and especially for a renewed sense of peace and hope in our world and church,” said Madda. “I am extremely grateful to St Brendan’s for keeping the church doors open, and for continuing adoration and extending the hours. Prayer definitely makes my work possible, especially in a hectic time like this.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was published in print and online, St. Brendan the Navigator Church had to cancel its adoration as the Governor of Georgia announced a statewide shelter-in-place order.