Priests find way to reach out despite pandemic
While lockdown has been a time of closing down, Ryde-Gladesville Parish has taken the opportunity to open up.
Parish priest Fr Greg Morgan said that if COVID had taught him one thing, it’s the importance of feeding souls as well as bodies and engaging in ways not done before.
Knowing parishioners were not allowed to visit him for the past three months, he decided to go to them, taking advantage of the fact that during this lockdown priests were allowed to make pastoral visits. But when he reached the point of visiting around 150 homes a week, he realised he couldn’t do it alone, and so enlisted his four fellow Verbum Dei Priests to help.
“we are doing all sorts of things to get access to people and be able to build bridges to Jesus’ – Fr Greg Morgan
He said this enabled them to get to know their huge community of St Charles Borromeo and Our Lady Queen of Peace better and find those in need who had fallen through the cracks.
He said that while the pandemic had been very tough for so many people, it had also made him aware of how important it was for them to make their ministry mobile. More than 300 face-to-face visits were being made by the priests weekly, which they hope to continue in some form now the lockdown is lifted, and from there further initiatives for the parish are being established.
Already along with daily streaming of Masses, online retreats, youth groups, School of the Word, RCIA and daily prayer groups, it has just opened Our Lady’s Kitchen, which delivers restaurant quality meals to those in need in the parish, in coordination with a number of other charities.
It is also in the process of introducing a coffee van outside the Church on busy Victoria Road offering a pastoral venue and bringing people together.
Paradoxically, Fr Greg said that at a time when Churches have been closed, many parishioners had felt more connected to the parish than ever both spiritually and physically.
“I just can’t stress enough how important the personalised visits have been, we are doing all sorts of things to get access to people and be able to build bridges to Jesus,” Fr Greg said. “While lockdown has been tough, its silver lining has been that it’s permitted us to be creative and do some pastoral work that we had either not had the opportunity to do in the past, or had neglected to do because we were all so busy.
“In normal times typically people came to us, but I knew we needed to be more proactive, so we used COVID as a kind of excuse to go out and visit people at their own homes which made us realise how important it is.
“When God closes one door he opens two others, and so you just have to be on the lookout for those doors. There’s never a reason for downing tools and just doing nothing, there’s always a way of doing something, you just have to find it.”
The family visitations have also enabled the parish to update its Census containing approximately 3000 names which Fr Greg said was always a challenge to keep up-to-date.
“To be honest we didn’t really know who was still on the list, some may have died or moved away and then others come into the parish and not on the list, so it was a great way of establishing a rapport with at least some of them,” he said.
“Yes, sometimes it was a bit tiring, but we also knew there was a need, so we thought, well, let’s just do it. We knew it was going to be hard doing 300 visits a week, but we also knew it was necessary, so we’d somehow find a way to sustain it.
“It’s been very labour intensive for us, however we get our strength through prayer and know that, when it is a question of feeding parishioners spiritually and physically, you just have to get out there and do it.”