ALLOUEZ — For many of us, the past months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time of giving up: shopping trips, long lunches with friends at restaurants, family holiday gatherings. And yes, giving up celebrating Mass at church.
One Green Bay-area couple, though, hasn’t had to give up going to Mass. At least not on weekdays.
Jackie and Tony Staley have been members of Resurrection Parish in Allouez since 2001. And, for many years, they have attended the 8:05 a.m. Mass with a group of daily Mass “regulars.”
“Mass for us is a good way to start the day,” Jackie said. “Another part of it is community. You are praying with (a) community. We are missing that terribly.”
When it became clear churches would close when the obligation to attend Mass was suspended, Resurrection Parish decided to go online with both Sunday Mass and daily Mass.
“Livestreaming the daily Mass has been a great constant in ‘staying open’ as Resurrection Parish,” pastor Fr. Tom Reynebeau explained. “We had about 50 people who always attend our morning Mass, so it was worth the effort to reach out to them.”
So the question arose: Who would minister at these Masses? Of course, there were the priests — Fr. Reynebeau, Fr. Bob Kabat of nearby St. Matthew Parish and Fr. Dean Dombrowski, a senior priest. The technical matters – like the two cameras for filming on YouTube — were handled by Katie McAllister, the parish’s coordinator of youth/young adult ministry. Sacristan duties are handled by Rosemary Baloun, coordinator of sacraments and RCIA, with the help of the worship team. Even Fr. Reynebeau’s puppy, Ruby, got involved in a homily or two — and at the parish each Wednesday afternoon, to be with her owner to greet those who drive up to wave hello or bring items for the food pantry.
But who would do the Mass readings? And who would sing?
Tony and Jackie have volunteered as lectors for many years, and both sang in the choir three times a month. They are also extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
So they naturally offered to help, along with a few other people. However, things don’t always go as planned.
“We are (now) doing all the daily Masses,” Tony explained. “That was not the original plan. … When the decision was made to keep daily Mass attendance to five to six people, in line with the governor’s (Tony Evers) policy, we were going to do two days a week, another woman was doing two and another one. They’re all in our usual group.
But quickly they decided that either they were at risk or their spouse was, so they shouldn’t do it. So we ended up with all five days. Other people do the weekend Mass.”
So, since mid-March, the cameras have focused on Jackie and Tony at daily Mass.
Tony handles the readings and prayers of the faithful, and Jackie leads the opening and closing song, as well as the sung Mass parts.
The couple knows the structure of the Mass — it’s been part of their daily routines for years, after both retired from the Diocese of Green Bay. (Tony is a former editor of The Compass and Jackie was a consultant for evangelization and coordinator for RENEW.)
The pair would alternate lectoring, once every six weeks, and Jackie would lead the singing that day. Both regularly sing in the choir on Sundays and for funeral Masses. So they had a good base from which to work.
Now, for each day, Jackie chooses the songs, based on the readings and the church season.
“I was asked to please pick songs that the congregation knows,” she said. “I’ve been careful not to pick songs nobody knows because some of them have the songbooks at home.”
Baloun appreciates the song selections. “Many of the daily church community have requested song books and missalettes for their home livestreaming, so they can sing along with Jackie,” she explained. “We provide the books for pick up and people are picking them up. Jackie’s gift of music is our gift too.”
Each evening the Staleys prepare for the following day’s Mass. Tony practices the readings. “Normally,” he said, “Jackie and I go over the readings at night. Even pre-Covid-19. That’s part of evening prayer. After supper, we sit down and read over the first reading and the Gospel. The only difference is that sometimes … we would alternate the reading. … Now, because I’m going to be doing the reading at Mass, I do the entire first reading. So that’s the only change.”
There has also been “plenty of washing our hands,” Jackie added. Tony uses hand sanitizer during Mass and Jackie sings from her own personal songbook. No one touches the microphone. That is the only negative feedback that the Staleys remember receiving.
“Early on, we had one woman who wrote to say we were all touching the mic and not washing our hands enough,” Tony recalled. “We no longer move the mic and I especially wash my hands before and after doing the readings and prayers of the faithful.”
Most feedback has been positive.
“We’ve had parishioners stop their cars and thank us when they see us walking,” Tony said. “One thanked us yesterday — we were across the street from each other — when we were walking the dogs. Some folks have called, others have sent cards. The parish has had an even bigger response.”
Fr. Reynebeau agreed.
“What surprised us,” he said, “is that, after a short time, the number of people attending virtually increased up to 150 people throughout the day.”
Baloun has noticed this too.
“The livestreaming … has brought in others who would not be able to come to daily Mass because they are working,” she told The Compass. “An example is my niece who is a nurse during these difficult times. She comes home at night and livestreams the morning Mass. She said this gives her comfort and a sense of peace from a very high stress day.”
There have been “so many great responses,” Fr. Reynebeau said, “that we plan to continue to livestream all of our Masses as long as there is a need. This seems to be filling a spiritual need for our parishioners, whether they can come to our parish site or not.”
“Tony and Jackie Staley have done an amazing job assisting at all daily Masses,” he added. “Tony’s lectoring and Jackie’s cantoring provide a great quality service that proclaims God’s blessing from our church building to all the ‘Church of the Homes’ listening in. It takes a rich, strong voice to project all the way to people’s homes. It is a different skill set than proclaiming to a crowd in front of you. Tony and Jackie are naturals in making this happen.”
The Staleys are just happy to help. “We’re privileged,” Jackie said. “Tons of people haven’t been to Communion since before this all shut down. … We think this is a privilege.”
Tony agrees. “It’s just a great honor. I love to be a lector. I love to be at Mass. I have really missed being there with the rest of the community. So whatever we can do to try to set up that community through the screen, we’re happy to play a role in that.”
And the Staleys, like everyone else, eagerly await the time when everyone can return to the church building for Mass.
“We look forward to the day,” Jackie said, “when we don’t have to look at a (camera’s) red light — to say, ‘You’re on’ — and to be able to see real people in those pews.”