Life (As We Knew It) May Not Be Coming Back Anytime Soon, But Don’t Fret…We Got This!

We realize that our life as a Catholic Parish isn’t coming back anytime soon; at least not the way we thought,  perhaps even hoped; at least not exactly like it was before this pandemic. Therefore, we have been actively moving along to adapt. Virtual-Worship and Gatherings have been our new way of life and we have found that God is using this for the good! So, while we will come back to in-person gatherings one day, we will also use the literal gifts we have learned from this time of hiatus, to make our wonderful Franciscan Catholic ethos all the stronger!

Almost every day without fail, I sit alone in my office and I pray and think to myself, “Lord, how can I help Saint Miriam survive this? Please God, help me. Please, Blessed Mother Mary, pray for me.” And every day, a new way comes to my mind, a new advertisement, way to communicate or involve you at home, or a new happening. God is indeed good, and I have learned to listen to God better during this time of increased quiet and solitude. It has been a real gift to me and to our parish.

While we continue to listen to our public health officials, honor social distancing and stay-at-home orders, we also are actively meeting daily, in-person through safe distancing meetings and via our new Zoom account, to discuss and plan for what life will look like once these restrictions are eased in all sectors of our society, but especially for us at Saint Miriam, parish and school.

In many places, like our own parish, publicly attended Masses have been suspended for weeks. But we need to prepare for the day when we are permitted to return and how to protect worshippers while offering Catholics access to the sacraments and a return to parish community life.

We realize that this reopening process will be gradual. As the Governor eases stay-at-home orders, we will begin to offer Masses that are open to the public, but it would be unwise to host large gatherings too quickly, especially as the true scope of infection remains unknown, and until everyone has access to testing. We also attend a weekly online gathering with Montgomery County Public Safety for worship leaders every Friday to keep us abreast of direct and timely information from the Governor’s Office. We are ready and will continue to prepare for the ‘all clear’ to reopen.

This is why we have been utilizing our virtual capabilities to keep us ‘gathering together’ and we will also continue to enhance those areas moving forward in some very exciting ways! We will also maintain, at least for the foreseeable future, some solid ways of keeping everyone safe.

So far, we have enhanced our Livestream, and brought great events like Virtual Egg Hunts for Easter and a Mother’s Day Basket Raffles for May, a Hymn request online, and a Virtual Choir, too! We offer Virtual CFF Lessons and we will soon bring you a weekly Zoom Mindfulness gathering every week, as well as a special ‘Mini Virtual Retreat on Silence’ offering with myself and Jesse Freschette from Center Mindful!

We have brought more technology, too! FM Broadcast of the Mass is now a weekly feature, and that will continue, AND we have decided to also bring you a weekly (weather-permitting) celebration of the Masses in our parking lot soon with parishioners remaining safe in their cars, and receiving Communion from a priest ready and sanitized! We are also adding a second Livestream camera to enhance our Virtual Mass offerings! And, our wedding couples can also now take pre-Cana classes virtually, too!

Additionally, we have opened our campus to the community while maintaining safe distancing and gathering requirements in our cemetery and gardens, with campus-goers staying six feet apart. Once we are allowed to hold public Masses inside the parish again, we are preparing to be in compliance with any state restrictions on large gatherings, and to offer other sacraments such as confession, anointing of the sick and weddings, and the Mass with increased distancing. This is why we are moving ahead with the removal of our pews and exchanging them for chairs to also permit greater distancing and discontinue the practice of ‘pew hoping’ over other people to get out of the pew during Mass!

We have also continued to be very Franciscan with our Outreach increasing! Our Blessing Bag program is over 1,200 bags a week (up from the norm of 300-400!) and we have cleared out old things and reformatted space to add a beautiful new Outreach Center! (Watch social media for the first images later today or tomorrow!) We also will soon have a ‘Virtual School Walkthrough online for those who wish to come to Saint Miriam School, and our infant and daycare will now be a year-round program!

Wow, huh!? Exciting what YOUR parish is doing! So, what about safety when we return? We need to be safe at home and when we gather, right? Yes! Therefore, when churches are permitted to open to the public, we will implement “a multi-prong system” to protect our worshippers.

First, we will continue what we started before we had to officially closed. During the cold and flu season and the current situation with the coronavirus outbreak, all parishioners will be reminded to use common sense and good hygiene.Those who are ill are not obliged to attend Mass and should stay home to recover and receive a dispensation; please attend Mass via Livestream. If you are feeling ill while attending Mass, we will ask that you please refrain from reception of Communion. Secondly, we will discontinue – for the time being – the reception of the Sacrament through the Blood of Christ in a communal chalice. We also will suggest that those who are not feeling well refrain from offering their hand to others at the sign of peace and instead a nice smile and a nod will graciously be accepted! Thirdly, all clergy including priests, deacons, subdeacons and Extraordinary Ministers will wash their hands immediately prior to Mass. Next, while nothing is better than washing your hands thoroughly, hand sanitizers are an effective supplemental to good hygiene and therefore access to hand-sanitizing gel will be provided near the entrances at every event and Mass. Also, everyone should continue to wear a cloth mask and follow social distancing guidelines, as required by the health and governmental authorities. We also begin to ask health questions as you enter for Mass and check your temperature with a no-contact digital thermometer. And, with our new chairs (post-sanctuary renovation), all worshippers will be automatically sitting six to eight feet apart! In addition, to try and attempt to keep gatherings small, we will be adding another Mass to our line up to permit worshippers choices in attending and spread us out a little bit more! As the infection rate comes down and testing capability increase, the size of the gatherings and easing of restrictions will change.

And, that leads me to my last announcement for this week! We were pleased to welcome Father Frank Souza to Saint Miriam Parish & Friary as Associate Pastor and Headmaster for Schools last summer, but with the changes to our school and parish, especially as we have grown our ministry and virtual life, I have seen the need for change.  Therefore, I met with him and have reassigned him effective June 1st, following the completion of our final licensing phase through the Department of Education, to Associate Pastor for Community Outreach and Virtual Worship. In this capacity Father will oversee all outreach and virtual operations, as well as maintain his Sunday Mass rotation! Please congratulate Father Frank in his new role and watch for more exciting news on our school front, too!

As your pastor, I wish to assure you that we’re going to reopen to public gatherings and celebrations in a way that is sensible, that follows the science, the data and the best practices, so that at the end of the day, we’re cooperating in keeping society safe, and keeping our parishioners and visitors safe, too.

I am excited about the future; I pray you are, too! Please support us with your prayers and kind financial donations to allow us to survive this closure. Soon, we will see the joy in one another’s faces as we gather again!

In Service and Hope,
Monsignor +Jim


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