“Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, Living the Gospel and Bringing Others to Christ.” This is the mission statement at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh. While the coronavirus pandemic was closing offices and church doors and canceling events and ministry activities, the missionary disciples at Most Blessed Sacrament, led by their pastor, Fr. Jerry Pastors, redoubled their prayer and planning around how to live out their mission.
Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist
Fr. Pastors and his team identified one of the most pressing and immediate needs: helping parishioners — especially those who cannot attend Mass in person — encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. “If we have learned anything from previous times of crisis, it is how important it is for us to turn to the presence of Jesus in prayer, service and sharing. Turning to Jesus and allowing Jesus to work through us will help us get through this sooner and end up stronger in faith, hope and love,” Fr. Pastors said.
In addition to livestreaming weekend and daily Masses, their prayer and pastoral creativity led the team to help parishioners turn to Jesus through a chapel with a tabernacle visible from the parking lot. “People are able to drive up and spend some time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament 24/7,” he said. “The tabernacle is in a secure place, and at night the lights are left on in the parking lot and in the entrance.” Eucharistic adoration and benediction are also available throughout the week.
During the Easter season, Fr. Pastors set up “eucharistic home blessing” appointments, bringing the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance to parishioners’ homes and neighborhoods. “Jesus would gaze at us and we at him as we prayed together the Divine Mercy Chaplet and concluded with the blessing of the home and family with the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.
Living the Gospel
Fr. Pastors regularly encouraged parishioners to “live the Gospel by reaching out to one another” in his communications and homilies. He would ask them to be the hands and feet of Jesus by calling their family and friends, leaving care packages on the doorsteps of their neighbors and participating in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The parish already had a strong relationship with the Community Food Pantry and the Day by Day Warming Shelter (housed in the old St. Peter school building), so the team reached out to those two organizations to ask how they could help meet the increasing needs. Brown Bag Sunday, a monthly food pantry outreach of the parish, became Brown Bag Every Day. Parishioners were encouraged to drop off donations in a 24/7 drop box outside the church building. Some outreach team members helped make deliveries to families who couldn’t get to the food pantry.
The team also worked with the Day by Day Warming Shelter to extend their lease and move into other parts of the school building, expanding their capacity and providing social distancing for the warming shelter guests.
Laurie Pollack, coordinator of pastoral outreach, worked with a team of approximately 35 volunteers to implement a calling tree. Their immediate goal: to contact each of the almost 1,300 registered households in the parish. “We checked on their spiritual well-being and offered assistance as needed, including prayers, financial assistance, food, medication and grocery pick-ups and more,” Pollack said.
Bringing Others to Christ
There is no doubt that Most Blessed Sacrament’s laser focus on mission will continue beyond the pandemic. From Mass times to leadership teams to faith formation, the parish has restructured to better serve their mission to bring others to Christ.
“Before the pandemic, we were working on our parish mission planning and discussing stopping the events, activities and ministries that don’t directly serve our mission. The pandemic stopped everything for us and gave us more freedom to focus on restarting only things that serve the mission,” Fr. Pastors said.
Today, the parish has more clarity around exactly who is in their mission field. As Pollack puts it, “Since the pandemic, our parish has realized that our community and our mission do not just lie within our parish, but extend to the entire community within our parish boundaries.”
To help reach that wider community, Fr. Pastors is planning to continue the breezeway entrance tabernacle chapel indefinitely. “Even outside of the pandemic, our churches are often locked and people can’t come in,” he noted. “This is one way we can continue to bring Jesus closer to others in our local community. At our parish, prayer with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is available to everyone. He looks out over the city of Oshkosh.”
The outreach team formed during the pandemic plans to expand. They will continue to meet the needs that come in to the parish office and the online form (now publicly available on their website). They will be connecting to those parishioners who have no contact with the parish via technology or Mass and are currently on their third round of phone calls to all registered households. The parish is also expanding their ministry by bringing healing prayer ministry for those who have any need for healing.
The parish’s community partnerships will be essential to their mission moving forward. Plans to expand the Day by Day Shelter to serve even more of the homeless and incorporating accompaniment and prayer opportunities for the shelter guests are in the works. The parish is also forming partnerships with new organizations and nonprofits, including the St. Anne’s clinic, a new health clinic for the uninsured and underinsured, that will be leasing space in their school building.
When asked how the parish’s mission has been able to be both flexible and fruitful during the past few months, Fr. Pastors said the key has been reliance on the Holy Spirit and a strong team of missionary leaders. “Our Parish Leadership Team has been meeting sometimes twice a week since the start of the pandemic to help me and the staff make sure that our parish is a safe place,” he said. “They have helped me to focus on my priestly ministry in the parish, and they keep the mission of the parish as the focus for everything that we do. They have truly been a godsend.”
Bird is executive director of Burning Hearts Disciples and a member of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish Pastoral Council.