By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
MUSCATINE — Members of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish can now access schedules, Scripture readings and prayers wherever they go. They can also receive parish announcements and schedule confession times with the push of a button.
It’s all part of a new cell phone application (app) the parish launched last month.
“Pull out your cell phones,” Father Troy Richmond said at the end of Masses the weekend of Dec. 5-6 before explaining to the congregation how to download and use the app. “It’s the only time you’ll ever hear me say those words in church,” the pastor exclaimed with a smile.
Fr. Richmond, staff and board members became familiar with the app about a year ago, as it is produced by the same company that makes the parish’s bulletins, Diocesan Publications. When the company ran a promotion offering the app free of charge to certain bulletin customers last summer, the parish gave the app serious consideration and ultimately decided to move forward.
“It was an opportune time to look at what a parish app could do for us,” Fr. Richmond said.
He and other parish leaders believe the app has the potential to be a powerful evangelization tool, especially for the younger generation that sees the smartphone as a lifeline. One of the strongest features of the app, Fr. Richmond said, is the ability for the parish to send out notifications that immediately alert the cell phone user of things such as cancellations and upcoming events. He also sees it as a ministry opportunity; both English and Spanish speakers can access faith-building resources. Additionally, all parish calendars, contact information and electronic bulletins will be accessible, as well as Catholic news articles. Fr. Richmond said he would like to offer recorded homilies, especially for the benefit of homebound parishioners and those who are out of town on a given weekend. First, he has to work out the details with the parish’s sound crew.
Tommy Fallon, the parish’s youth and young adult ministry coordinator, believes the app notifications can help reach out to older youths and young adults and keep them informed. Not far removed from this age group himself at age 27, he said the young people he works with don’t always pay attention to the paper bulletin given out at Mass and sometimes miss out on announcements as a result. They’re more likely to rely on their cell phones for information. He has even more confidence in the app’s potential after attending the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November. Almost every teenager from the parish downloaded the NCYC app and referenced it regularly throughout the week for schedules and other conference information.
Seeing first-hand how older youths and young adults use cell phones as a resource, he said, “I feel like it’s a way to meet people where they are at.”
Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, the parish’s religious education director, looks forward to having another way to alert parents and adult students of cancellations and other last-minute announcements. Sometimes cell phone notifications are the quickest way to reach someone regardless of age. “It’s a really good communication tool,” she said, adding that she plans to send out reminders about parent meetings and adult religious education events.
Fr. Richmond said the parish will avoid sending out too many notifications. “We don’t plan to send them out all the time. If we send out three a day, for example, it would get a little old after a while,” he said with a chuckle.
With the new app now in the hands of Ss. Mary & Mathias parishioners, Father Hai Dinh, the parish’s parochial vicar, joked the parishioners will be able to tell people, “I’m not texting, I’m praying!”
Just not in church, though. “Whenever they come within two and a half miles of the parish, app users are reminded to turn their phones on silent mode!” Fr. Richmond said.
About parish phone apps
A few types of customizable cell phone applications are available through publishing companies, including Diocesan Publications and Our Sunday Visitor. Independent apps, like OneParish and Parish Solutions, are also available. Apps generally require a set-up fee and a monthly fee, depending on the contract.
Catholictechtalk.com recommends parishes make sure they have a strong, regularly updated website before thinking about an app. The website suggests that apps tend to be more advantageous to larger parishes.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently launched its free USA Catholic Church app, which contains daily Scripture readings, news and national alerts. The app is not currently customizable for parishes, though the USCCB has plans to develop this aspect of the app in the future.