The Digital Parish – Father Charlie McDonnell

21 Apr 2020

Father Charlie McDonnell, Westport Parish:

Q1: How are you coping day to day with lockdown/social distancing?

Coping well. Been social distancing since March. Well in on it. Lockdown can be challenging but it’s very busy. Most staff are gone so we find that our parish boundaries have changed. I am connecting with a lot of ex-pats and people with Westport connections online. I find myself having to get help to keep on top of the sheer volume of messages, Mass and prayer requests. Busy days.

Q2. What do you miss most?

What I miss most and my greatest regret is around the way we have to do funerals now. The restrictions on families are immense and I worry about the fallout psychologically down the road for people. So we are trying to do our best around that. Also just human contact and celebrations. I miss the celebration of Confirmation and First Communions too.

But within all that I miss is a strong sense that we cannot abandon God’s people. Pope Francis has called us to be close to people. Social distancing absolutely but not social or community isolation.

Q3. How are you reaching out online as a priest and as the parish of Westport?

Reaching out by having the church open a constant challenge to keep it clean but this is working at the moment.

Both online and on parish radio we offer daily Mass.

We were delighted to have been able to have a full suite of Easter ceremonies. We only have Facebook live for online Daily Mass and Evening devotions which are done from a mobile phone.

Easter Ceremonies and Sunday Mass are done with a small crew with cameras and sound – two people and three camera angles and piped music. Working well.

The parish website also hosts our weekly parish newsletter and is the anchor for the live streaming.

In terms of continuing online reaching out after COVID-19 – well that is a long way off right now. I can’t see us continuing Facebook live but we may consider a webcam but with one or two notable exceptions as webcams are more restrictive than what we have.

Q4: What’s the first thing you will do after lockdown/social distancing is eased?

When the Covid-19 restrictions are fully eased a Parish Mass of Thanksgiving which will be streamed for all those who have connected with us online.

Q5: What’s your message to those in need of hope and encouragement at this time?

We’re in this together. Right now all we can do is take tiny steps in the right direction and stay safe. Only listen to the news when you have to. Read as many light books as you can. Watch silly films. Play games. Breathe and pray.

A lot of people ask what it’s like in an empty church. For some strange reason the church doesn’t feel empty.

Facebook especially gives a sense of a congregation. There’s also a sense that God is very near to us right now. During Easter it took the disciples a while to figure that out. It’ll be the same for us. Stay with it and truly truly trust in God.