Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Build a Parish Message Board

As we all know too well, one of the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic has been to create major dislocations in the lives of just about everyone. Orders to shelter in place and limit the size of gatherings have greatly diminished the amount of social interaction that we encounter every day. Parish communities have been affected by these restrictions as well. Even with churches cautiously reopening, many parishioners are staying away from public worship out of concern for their own health as well as the safety of others. While many parishes have been able to provide online streaming of their Masses, these are not a substitute for the direct personal experience of gathering with the other members of your community on a regular basis. In response to this situation, parish communities have had to be creative in finding ways to rebuild that missing sense of community.

One parish has come up with the idea of using the parish bulletin as a kind of parish message board. They admit that the idea was inspired by the message board at a local bar, where a patron can buy a beer for someone who isn’t there at the time and leave that person’s name on the board. When that other lucky patron arrives, they can check the message board, go to the bar, and enjoy the beer purchased for them perhaps days earlier. The parish staff reasoned that blank space going to waste in the parish bulletin could be used in a similar way to supply the missing sense of community because of the pandemic.

Here’s how the idea can work. Your agreement with J. S. Paluch is for a set number of pages in the weekly Sunday bulletin. With parish activities greatly diminished, there is the possibility of bulletin space going unused every week. This parish message board idea would use that space to allow parishioners to send messages to each other, or to the parish at large, as a way of making up for the lacking daily, Sunday morning, and weeknight interactions. The message could be a simple “We miss the cheerful greeting of Doris who sat behind us in the fourth pew at the 10 a.m. Mass.” Or maybe “How is Mr. Johnson doing after his surgery? Contact us at 555-1212.” Maybe it’s the announcement of a birth or a special birthday. Or just saying how much you miss Deacon Larry’s homilies. The possibilities are endless.

It might take a while to set up. A volunteer or someone on the parish staff could be designated to moderate the submissions for privacy issues and to keep the content appropriate. Announcements promoting the project could be made in the bulletin and during the streaming Masses. Maybe a special email address could be created just for the message board, or parishioners could phone in their messages to voicemail. Some parishioners could volunteer to send the first messages to get the ball rolling. Each parish can develop its own approach and refine it over time. The result will be that parishioners can read messages from their neighbors in printed or online versions of their parish bulletin, and get at least a little sense of life in their parish home.

During these difficult times, human contact with our fellow parishioners is priceless. Why not give something like this a try in your parish? And when you can finally gather again, you’ll be able to continue building on the sense of community you’ve maintained during the long absence by means of this simple parish message board.

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