Using technology, work of Renew My Church continues during pandemic

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

To keep the Renew My Church process moving during the pandemic, archdiocesan staff and parish leaders have been using available technology to meet virtually, make decisions and evangelize.

“As of right now we’ve been able to move forward using online tools,” said Father Jason Malave, the cardinal’s liaison to Renew My Church. “Of course, there is an intimacy that we’re missing in the whole thing but we’re able to get the lion’s share of the work done.”

Shortly after the shutdown, archdiocesan Renew My Church staff turned to online tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to meet with leaders and communicate.

“That’s been really amazing. We had a Teams call with over 50 pastors, for example,” Malave said. “It allowed us to push forward in a specific way.”

Staff had been using Teams to meet for almost three years, so they were comfortable expanding its use to include parish leaders. Malave said pastors have been using online tools to continue parish unification plans by meeting with parishioners whom they may not have met yet in person.

“It’s wonderful. It’s a great tool that we had the foundation for but we’re really blowing it up now,” Malave said.

At present, parishes that have already received decisions on mergers are going through the unification process that becomes official July 1. That requires merging financial accounts and payroll, resolving technical issues and other major tasks. All of that has continued using these tools.

Discernment and decisions for the next round of parishes going through the process will begin in August, but preparation is being done now, Malave said. Plans are in the works for those parishes to join Cardinal Cupich for an online meeting in the near future.

Once parishes merge they start the “building the new reality” phase, in which they work on making their parish vital communities. That work is also continuing online now.

The Department of Parish Vitality and Mission, which leads the third stage of Renew My Church, has created online prayer groups, book clubs and trivia nights to help parishes reach out to their people, said Father Peter Wojcik, the department’s director.

All are efforts to create what Wojcik calls “radical hospitality” and to connect with people during the pandemic. Using technology to evangelize at this time has been a success, he said.

“There are a lot of things that we are learning right now that we will continue doing a little bit differently,” Wojcik said. “But surely we’ll think about technology differently than we did a month ago. It allows parishes to still be actively involved and participate and, at the same time, helps them to really engage their parishioners at the new level, at a more intentional level, than just announcements in the church.”

For the first time, the archdiocese has started Alpha online. Alpha is an 11-week course that focuses on basic questions such as, “Is there more to life than this?”, “Who is Jesus?” and “Why and how should I read the Bible?” It’s an effort to bring Jesus to people who aren’t necessarily practicing religion but are seeking deeper meaning in their lives.

Parishes throughout the archdiocese have held Alpha groups in person, but the pandemic offered an opportune time to take the program online, said Elizabeth White, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.

“What we decided was, right now, people have all of these questions about where is God in all of this, where is God in this suffering, how is this happening. Alpha is something that can lean into those questions and give people space to ask their own questions in safety and security,” White said.

Her office is providing the technology and infrastructure and letting people from the parishes lead the various sessions. Each weekly session features a brief video then discussion in small groups. When Alpha groups meet in person, there is also a meal.

About 300 people from within and outside the archdiocese are taking part in the various groups in English. Alpha in Polish will begin online soon and an Alpha in Spanish online is in the works. 

“We invited anybody that’s interested in learning about Alpha,” White said. “The reason is because this may be a way to offer Alpha moving forward, and we want our parishes to be comfortable with that.”

Part of offering Alpha is looking beyond the series to what comes next. So the office has connected small groups geographically as much as possible so that afterward, when things open up again, they can help participants connect with a parish community or small groups can gather on their own.

A benefit to Alpha online is that it is helping parishes become familiar with the technology, which they can use in the future to reach out to their parishioners. It’s also creating future Alpha leaders.

“If you go through this as a guest, you are primed to be a host or a helper for when it’s a live session in a parish,” White said. “We’re helping parishes build up those teams also.”


  • renew my church

Related Articles