Over the past year, St. Joseph the Worker parish in Richmond, BC, has found ways to adapt to the pandemic context. The pastoral team and the pastor, Pierre Ducharme, OFM, used imaginative approaches to reach people and spread the good news.
Fr. Pierre’s goal is to evangelize as many people as possible by engaging them through various means.
Since the start of the pandemic, Mass has been offered online only, which quickly led to some questions about how to receive the Eucharist. Neighbouring parishes had started giving communion to parishioners outdoors. Fr. Pierre was at first reluctant do the same. “The notion that the Eucharist would be treated in that way made me uncomfortable.”
And yet, the need for communion remained for the faithful. To fill this need, St. Joseph parish began offering communion outdoors, in the church parking lot. They called this “the communion pilgrimage,” because it was agreed it was a continuation of their participation in Mass online. Then, when the health authorities of British Columbia tightened their directives, “in-car” communion seemed like a better option, as it provided for better social distancing. Although many of the faithful were interested in attending Mass online and then receiving communion, Fr. Pierre started to sense that part of the community became disconnected. “Many people watch Mass online and remain at home afterwards. Many others are, unfortunately, disengaged.”
Out of a desire to do things differently and engage as many people as possible, the Light Up Richmond initiative was born. “These were initiatives designed not so much to support our traditional faithful, but to reach out to new people.”
The parish therefore developed a website dedicated specifically to the event. For the occasion, residents were invited to decorate their home with Christmas lights, then take a photo and register it on Richmond’s Christmas lights tour (with an interactive map indicating the location of each participating house with flags). People were invited to post the photos on social media with the hashtag #LightUpRichmond. The parish also posted photos of the church’s lights on social media. It was a novel way of launching the Christmas festivities. The music and songs of this festive and inclusive video are performed by parishioners who can be seen on the screen.
Other quality videos like this one were produced on a volunteer basis by a production company and posted on the parish’s YouTube channel. In this way, those who were interested could watch Wellness Wednesday and do a weekly aerobics session with a professional trainer as a way to get some exercise during lockdown. The tireless Fr. Pierre even makes an appearance, wearing workout gear for the occasion. There is even something for those who love cooking shows! What’s for Dinner in Heaven? was a hit on the channel. It is a classic cooking show with a twist of humour and a hint of the exotic, hosted by the pastor himself and co-hosted by a different guest every week. Another gem: this channel presents a charming video produced as part of Chinese New Year featuring a dancing lion and three children singing in Mandarin, surrounded by two Franciscans, Fr. Pierre Ducharme and Fr. Joachim Yoon, who joined in the fun.
In this way, St. Joseph the Worker parish is in line with the creative evangelization envisioned by Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel. “We have a parish pastoral vision, written during this time of pandemic, that prioritizes outreach.”
As a sign of the times, St. Joseph the Worker parish hired someone specifically to manage and host its social media, with the aim, once again, of doing things differently and reaching as many people as possible. “We want to evangelize! That is our reason for doing the things we do.”