By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Ten months ago, just as Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport launched a $1.6 million capital campaign, the COVID-19 pandemic invaded the U.S. In-person attendance at Mass or any other parish activities were suspended, and no one knew for how long.
“We had to change our focus,” said the pastor, Father Jake Greiner. He and his leadership team developed a four-part strategy to communicate with parishioners. Even though in-person attendance at Mass resumed in late June, the pandemic communication plan remains in place.
The four elements:
1. A daily reflection on Scripture from Father Greiner, available for viewing on YouTube and posted on the parish website (olvjfk.com/olv/) and accessible via a telephone recording (563-217-1020). “People are cueing into the reflection on Scripture,” says Chris Comes, president of the Ripson Group, the parish’s marketing and public relations agency. The phone-recorded message is important to the many households that do not have reliable access (or any access) to the Internet, he said.
2. Online Mass presence. Father Greiner (or Father Scott Foley, the parochial vicar) presides at the Sunday Mass broadcast at 7 a.m. on COZI-TV (Channel 6.3), a national syndicate affiliated with Davenport-based KWQC TV 6. Deacon John Wagner also serves during the televised Mass. “Although Nielsen audience rankings are not bought by the local station for COZI-TV network, we have received hundreds of letters and small donations from people watching the Sunday Mass,” Comes said. COZI-TV will continue to broadcast a Sunday Mass through Easter Sunday. The parish posts Sunday Mass on its website as well.
3. Weekly communication. The parish sends an email blast to people who request it (sign up on the website or call the parish office at 563-391-4245) and a monthly mailer such as a postcard or flyer to every household. In addition, parish volunteers and staff call households periodically “to let people know we are here and that we care,” Father Greiner said. Older parishioners and those dealing with special circumstances receive calls more frequently.
4. Monthly, parish-wide acts of charity. “We’ve committed to doing some act of charity during the pandemic…. We know people are in need,” Father Greiner said. “A lot of people are doing a lot of good stuff that we don’t even know about.” He calls them COVID Angels. Parish-wide events have included food, diaper, blanket and coat drives, among other things. “We’ve done this in the past, but people are much more generous. That’s edifying for me.”
Generosity has carried over to the parish’s capital campaign, which Father Greiner and other parish leaders decided to continue because of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) needs in the parish’s church and school buildings. “The school does not have air conditioning,” Father Greiner said. Pipes need replacing, and greater awareness about the airborne spread of the coronavirus gives more urgency to enhancing ventilation in the buildings. Some of the funds ($27,000) paid for professional broadcast equipment to livestream Masses, weddings and funerals, Comes said. Volunteers underwent training to operate the equipment. Other projects include a new sound system and replacement of some windows.
To date, people have pledged just over $1 million to the two-year capital campaign, which impresses Father Greiner. “There are more blessings for Our Lady of Victory than not because of COVID.” Some parishioners have died of the disease, others stay away for fear of the disease and still others struggle in various ways. The parish website provides opportunities for parishioners in crisis to reach out for help. Overall, parishioners “see God’s goodness even in the midst of COVID. They have faith that there’s a future filled with hope.”
The letters and financial donations the parish receives for the COZI-TV broadcasts of Sunday Mass also impresses Father Greiner. However, the broadcasts involve a lot of work and expense. While the COZI-TV broadcasts conclude Easter Sunday, livestreaming of Masses will continue, as will other COVID-era communication initiatives.
“It is engagement on every level possible,” Comes said, “to keep people feeling a sense of community.”