‘Faith Formation’ has been at the center of church reopening

SOUTHWICK-The Rev. Matthew Guidi at Our Lady of the Lake Church on Sheep Pasture Road is hopeful that more parishioners will soon return to Masses.

“When we first reopened immediately after the shutdown, our attendance, as was the case with most churches, was way down,” said Guidi, noting all Masses have been conducted inside the church. “Now that we have been reopen for over four months, our attendance is doing much better.”

Guidi concedes there are still parishioners who have yet to venture back into the church.

“There are still some parishioners who are afraid to return but it appears to be nearly back to the pre-COVID days,” he said. “I keep welcoming people back and make sure parishioners know that we constantly disinfect, maintain social distancing, and wear masks.”

A Welcome Home sign greeted parishioners at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Southwick when Masses resumed earlier this summer. (KIM ROOD PHOTO)

While the Diocese of Springfield has not allowed church choirs to congregate at this time, Guidi said the church does allow “spiritual activities but not social activities.”

“We are doing Faith Formation both virtual/remote learning and in-person classes,” said Guidi. “It took a lot of effort, work, and preparation but we are committed to our mission of educating our young people and families in our Catholic faith tradition.”

Guidi added Faith Formation, formally known as CCD or religious education, “is one of the most important things that we can do.”

Communication has been key for Guidi in ensuring parishioners are aware of all church updates as they unfold.

“Once a week on Sunday morning, we livestream the Sunday Mass,” he said. “We also send out email blasts, have the weekly bulletin which is also available online, regularly update our website, and have a parish Facebook page.”

Guidi said he has received positive feedback from parishioners on how grateful they are for the regular communication.

Also during the past few months, Guidi noted that most parishioners mailed in weekly donations during the shutdown.

While Our Lady of the Lake Church in Southwick was closed earlier this year, painter David DeiDolori repainted the altar background. This is how the altar looked prior to the repainting. (KIM ROOD PHOTO)

“Our particular parish is financially stable,” he said, adding, “Thanks be to God.”

Another avenue that Guidi took was to start online giving options for parishioners.

“We also began online giving which has also been a big help,” he said. “Collections and donations are down overall but I am grateful that it’s not as dire as it could be.”

Guidi said he is “grateful” to his parishioners for contributing whatever they can to keep the parish going during “these most difficult of times.”

While Guidi continues to tackle the many challenges that all churches are facing in light of the coronavirus pandemic, he said preparing for Faith Formation has been one of the most challenging aspects for him at this time.

“Not all of our teachers and catechists are tech savvy and have had to learn how to use Zoom,” he said. “We also needed to buy some laptops in order to conduct virtual classes.”

Another challenge for Guidi has been the reluctance of some families to return to Faith Formation classes.

This is now how the altar background appears at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Southwick after it was repainted by David DeiDolori during the shutdown earlier this year. (KIM ROOD PHOTO).

“I think some parents are feeling overwhelmed with everything that is being thrown at them in the midst of the COVID-19,” he said. “We as a parish family are doing our absolute best to be accommodating, welcoming, and ensure that our young families are being ministered to.”

As Guidi looks to the holiday season ahead, he is hopeful that plans will come together soon.

“There’s been some talk about the holidays, although we’ve been working so much to address Faith Formation that we haven’t had a chance to discuss the holidays as much as I would have liked,” said Guidi. “Our hope is to be able to have a wonderful Christmas despite all and conduct Masses while keeping everyone safe.”

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of stories addressing how church leaders are adapting to church life in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. For church leaders who would like to share their story, send an email to Westfield News Editor Hope Tremblay at [email protected].

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