By Andre Lesperance, Senior Ministry Consultant
The other day I got an eight-word text from a priest I know named Fr. Patrick. I would consider Fr. Patrick a friendly acquaintance—not a close friend. The last time we communicated was nearly two years ago. His text read:
“Prayers for you Andre, in this difficult time.”
To borrow a famous phrase from John Wesley, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Why?
- Because Fr. Patrick had thought about and prayed for me, which he didn’t need to do. It was unexpected—above and beyond the call of duty.
- I felt the presence of the Church—in whom friendly acquaintances, and even strangers, are family in the Lord. I felt the truth of St. Paul’s words describing the mystical body of Christ: “when one part [of the body] suffers, all the parts suffer with it,” (1 Cor 12:26).
A personal eight-word note from one’s pastor at this concerning time could make a huge positive difference.
People’s future opinion of their pastor, their parish, the universal Church, and yes, even God may depend on whether or not we were there for them in a time of need.
A brief personal message to individual parishioners is symbolic. Pastors, you represent the parish, the universal Church, and God to your people. Your outreach signals that they are known and cared for by all of the above.
Now is your moment to make a lasting impression as pastor, as shepherd, as father. And all it will take is about one minute per person. Do it for as many as you can.
I know the challenges before you at this time go far beyond this little gesture I’m proposing. You face pressure, vital tasks, and challenging decisions. You and your staff are communicating to the parish as a whole through general letters, emails, website updates, and YouTube videos. You’re streaming your Masses or homilies into people’s homes. You’re telling them “I love you” and “I’m praying for you.”
They need these messages too. But the “you” in these public messages is the communal “you.” I want you to take the time to use the individual “you” as well.
No one is expecting that.
So just start reaching out—one person at a time.
Start calling, emailing, texting, or writing particular members of your parish. This is easier than you think. Yes, it will take valuable time, but it’s time well-spent.
Some practical suggestions:
- Get started: Pray for and reach out to one person, right now, just to get a start.
- Keep going: Do an additional ten communications today and then stop. It won’t take very long.
- Make it a habit: Use one hour a day to keep chipping away at various lists.
- Progress matters: Maybe you’ll get to everyone; maybe you won’t even come close. Either way, you’ll reach some.
- Use lists to jog your memory: Start with anyone you’re comfortable texting, whose number you have in your phone contacts. Then switch to emails or phone calls to committee members, catechists and leaders of various kinds. Then go to the list of school families if you have a school. Then move to whomever is registered at the parish. For these bigger lists, maybe you just send notes to people you recognize, or maybe you send them to everyone. Do whatever you’re most comfortable with.
- Keep it short: If you call, most people won’t answer the phone, which is fine; just leave a message. If you do get someone live, tell them you only have a brief minute but you’re just calling to tell them you’re praying for them at this time.
- Keep it simple: When you send an email, text, or leave a voicemail, don’t ask them to get back to you. Don’t even ask them a question. And don’t feel pressure to continue a dialogue if they do respond. They’ll understand that you’re busy. But you took the initiative to type their name or dial their number, and to say a short prayer just for them. That’s enough to speak volumes.
I’d wager that this tiny, humble outreach from their pastor will be felt more strongly than nearly all of the good and necessary top-down services and communications. Showing you care for them may make these parishioners more open to you, to praying with your community, and to contributing to the parish when the pandemic passes.
I promise you, their hearts will be warmed. And you will have done a great thing—not only for them in this moment, but for the future of your parish.