From pause to welcome back

A return to church continues

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality in the United States, church life in the Diocese of Green Bay slowly took a pause. Public gatherings, including Masses, were canceled. Even adoration chapels across the diocese were closed at the request of Bishop David Ricken.

Bishop Ricken’s adoration chapel announcement came one day after he ordered the suspension of all public celebration of Masses, as well as other liturgical celebrations, such as Stations of the Cross.

Over the next year, Catholics and other people of faith had to rely on television, smartphones and computers to fill a spiritual void created by the pandemic. It took science (the development of vaccinations) and faith (many prayers) to finally overcome months of fear and isolation.

Along the way, diocesan leaders worked tirelessly to find ways people could be reengaged with their faith. A “Spiritual Accompaniment Task Force” created live video conferences for parish staff called “Parish Life Line.” These Zoom gatherings included weekly conversations, such as “Christ, Communication and Coffee,” “Mom’s Night In” and “Leadership Lunch and Learn.”

In August 2020, the Diocese of Green Bay launched “Reconnect to Inspire” as a way to provide support and resources to parish and school leaders. The initiative included reconnect groups, four-week sessions held both digitally and in-person. Reconnect groups aimed to provide an opportunity to regather as a community, become reacquainted with others and share personal experiences of living through the pandemic.

Finally, in July, Bishop Ricken issued his reinstatement of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. The return to Mass took place on Sunday, Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While the pandemic is far from over, due to the Delta variant and controversies regarding the wearing of face masks and vaccination hesitancy, the Diocese of Green Bay moves ahead in hopes of bringing people back to church — safely. 

This weekend, Sept. 25 and 26, parishes across the diocese are holding Welcome Back Weekends. “We thought September would be a great time for parishes to intentionally welcome folks back who may be returning,” Peter Murphy, Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team leader, told The Compass. “We want to welcome them back to Mass, either from the pandemic or maybe they left before the pandemic.”

While the Welcome Back initiative is geared toward the last weekend of September, the message extends well beyond these dates. A 2020 Gallup poll revealed that U.S. church membership dropped below 50% for the first time ever. The pandemic only served to hasten the drop. 

It’s against this backdrop that Bishop Ricken continues his “Disciples on the Way” initiative that seeks to form missionary disciples. In his column this week, Bishop Ricken says he has two goals to reach by 2025:

“We will call forth and form hundreds of missionary leaders who will mobilize thousands of missionary disciples who disciple at least two others,” he writes. “We will call forth and form 30 seminarians to be missionary leaders to the priesthood.”

These are lofty goals, but the vision and mission of the diocese, proclaimed by Bishop Ricken are the rudders that steer our vessel. Let’s pray that the Welcome Back Weekend steers our discipleship vessel in the direction God intends: onward and upward.