When I was an architecture student at Georgia Tech, one of the murals in our design lab announced that every problem is an opportunity for a creative solution. The Covid19 Pandemic has forced everyone to adjust and be creative in new and unexpected ways.
For most of us, we cannot meet for workshops in our parish halls and classrooms, and even when we can, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of gathering around a table for small group discussions. These small groups are really the heart of many workshops. For those who are comfortable with the small groups, discussions while sitting 6 feet apart or masked make it difficult to share more personal and intimate reflections which is the power of small group work.
The creative solution:
Virtual Workshops via Zoom is one solution. Is it the same as in-person workshops? No. Meeting in-person would always be preferable. Being physically present is different and meeting via Zoom is a pale imitation of meeting face-to-face. We miss the body language and the ability to easily move in and out of multiple conversations when speaking through a screen. But there are some benefits to the virtual option as well.
Meeting from the comfort of your own home:
All you need is access to the internet, a laptop or a smart phone with a camera and a microphone to participate. But you do not need to drive anywhere, weather is not a problem (hello, winter!), and there is no need to get dressed up. For evangelization, this is a game changer. People who may not have been comfortable walking into a church or church hall, can now participate in faith discussions, or at least sit back and listen from the comfort of their own home. We have had participants in virtual Alpha programs who had been invited to in-person Alpha programs many times, but just were not ready or able to come to a parish hall to participate. When the option for a virtual on-line Alpha came along the threshold was low enough for them to be able and comfortable to try it out. After all, if they did not like it, all they had to do is click a button to “leave the meeting”.
Distance is not a deterrent:
We live in a huge Diocese. It is not unusual for a workshop facilitator to drive two hours or more to a location, present a two-hour workshop, and drive another two hours or more to go home. Considering that many workshops are on weekday evenings, this makes for some very late nights. Facilitating a series of workshops over many weeks, such as Alpha or The 99, or The Search would become very impractical and often impossible in the winter. Presenting these workshops virtually, participants can receive the benefit of the workshop as well use the virtual workshop as a training for becoming a facilitator themselves in their own parish when it is possible to meet in person once again. It is always easier to run a program if you have participated in it yourself.
It is possible to meet with multiple parishes at once:
Since distance is not a problem, and the technology allows for creating breakout groups, it is possible to offer a workshop or masterclass to multiple parishes at once. Recently, our office offered a Virtual 99 Masterclass to four parishes as well as a group of participants from the Diocese of Syracuse. We all watched the presentations together, and then broke into our small parish groups for discussions. Again, it is not a perfect solution, but it is possible.
Currently, the office of the New Evangelization is running a pilot online-Alpha. It is anticipated that we will run a new Online Alpha course starting in February of 2021. Alpha is a process for sharing the initial proclamation of the Gospel and so is geared primarily to those outside the church or marginally connected. It is an easy, no-pressure opportunity for participants to explore the basics of Christianity.
We have just completed our first 99 Masterclass with four parishes and one small group from the Diocese of Syracuse. We plan to run the 99 Experience open to anyone in January of 2021. The 99 is a three-part process of evangelization training. The 99 Masterclass is aimed at parish leaders to explore various facets of evangelization. The 99 Experience is for the person in the pew and can be likened to a parish mission. The third part is the 99 Handbook which would be great for small group discussion to go deeper into the content. The idea is that the three parts can be run repeatedly so that some who have participated in the Experience or book discussion would return to do the Masterclass and then help facilitate the Experience for a new cohort. In addition, the 99 Experience would be a possible follow-up to the Alpha process.
We will run The Search discussion group, which is a discipleship program available on Formed.org for a small group this October. The program is aimed at people both inside and outside the church who want to explore questions about the meaning and purpose of life and how our faith in Jesus Christ makes sense of our experience. If you have a small group that would be interested, we can run another session of this discussion. The Search is a wonderful resource for discussion groups that also can serve well as a follow-up to Alpha or simply for participants to think about and share their own experience of faith.
Vespers from the Liturgy of the Hours: every weekday as schedules permit, a small group of participants come together to pray vespers from the Liturgy of the Hours using Zoom and iBreviary.
To learn more:
If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved with any of the available virtual workshops or would like to talk about other possible workshops to be presented either virtually or in person, please contact Marika Donders at the Office of the New Evangelization at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-393-2920 or see rcdony.org/evangelization. The Office of Evangelization is sponsored through the Bishop’s Fund and provides these workshops free of charge to parishes and parish groups.