2020.4.10 – Shaken… not broken – a message of gratitude.
Dear parish family of St. Francis, please allow me a moment to offer a few words of gratitude to the employees, faculty, and staff of St. Francis parish and school as well as the Bishop’s leadership team.
The current COVID-19 crisis has hit our parish like an earthquake. Our parish has been shaken to the core by the cancelation of Sunday Mass and the shelter-in-place order. But it is because of the heroic efforts of these men and women, that our parish has only been shaken… not broken. And so I want to explicitly thank these people. In my mind, they stand like Titans amid an everchanging landscape of professional demands.
The first wave of this earthquake began the Friday before Spring break when Mary Carter and Fey Barles met with the teachers of our school to project the possibility of online classes. With the adeptness and agility of athletes and soldiers our faculty and staff, under Mary and Fey’s leadership, went from in-person to online classes in the blink of an eye. They were strongly supported by Janet Eaton and the diocesan school office. Within a week our teachers moved to classes online, contacted students via online platforms, and changed curriculums to match new needs. I stand astounded at their professionalism!
Then, during that same spring break, the kitchen staff, led by Denise Smarsh and Sandi Baalman along with Mary and many volunteers, changed their entire mode of operations. Within days they began to serve lunches every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to, what has grown to be, 600 people each day. Our kitchen staff have been bearers of charity in a moment of serious need. I am awed by their dedication.
In the meantime, at the diocesan level, our Bishop with his leadership team, immediately went to work forecasting the financial impact that this crisis would have on the 90 parishes of our diocese. Bishop Kemme, Fr. David Lies, Byan Coulter, Therese Seiler, Janet Eaton and many others began to meet daily to find ways to support our parishes and bring stability amidst the tremors of this earthquake. They presented plans, received feedback, revised plans, listened to needs, crunched numbers, discerned resources, provided wisdom, and reached out to hundreds of people – all to provide much needed strength and insight in view of the rising clouds of uncertainty. I am proud to have such dedicated leadership in place.
The third wave of effect on our parish was the financial insecurity brought on by canceling Sunday Mass. Pat Burns predicted the surge of this wave rising in our parish. With the help of Julia Schauf, Mary Carter, Travis Pearson, Fr. Drew and Fr. Isaac we began, like the Bishop’s leadership team, to financially forecast and discern the severity of impact. Pat applied financial wisdom to the current and long-term impact of this earthquake, implemented online giving and clarified methods of giving. I am grateful for this keen financial insight.
During all these waves, our front office has been a stabilizing presence by offering a kindly ear and needed information. Travis Pearson, Sandi Baalman, Julia Schauf, Steffanie Hinson, and Harriet Rosa have been calming voices amid anxiety. Receiving calls, offering consolation, and brainstorming solutions they have stayed strong in a time of upheaval to parish operations. Rebecca Vodola has been working in overdrive to institute Flocknote, communicate to parents, update social media, and produce publications. She has been a voice through which every necessary message has been shared to the entire parish family – and she has reacted with speed and intelligence. Travis has brought his legal prowess to bear in hard decisions and, along with Steffanie and Harriet, is currently organizing calling trees to bring parishioners much needed support. Emily Savage and her leadership team have reached out again and again to our youth bringing them compassion amid an upturned school year. I am astounded at their compassion, patience, and diligence.
But the very ground upon which wave after wave of this earthquake has crashed has been the faith life of our parish family. Sunday Mass, RCIA, Lenten Faith groups, youth groups, prayer groups – indeed every parish function – was instantly canceled. Over night our parish campus went quiet. And in the background Fr. Drew and Fr. Isaac changed their entire mode of ministry to meet the needs of parishioners, not to mention, too, Fr. Ed. Our back-porch conversations have been filled with a discerning spirit and brotherhood. Fr. Ed and Fr. Drew have been keeping us abreast of the latest news and updates, giving much needed information to the pastoral decisions that have had to be made daily. Fr. Isaac, in the space of weeks, celebrated several funerals and baptisms and has championed ministering to the youth and calling to mind the mission and ministry of our faith. Fr. Drew, with his incredible technological skill, has live-streamed our celebrations on-line so that, even at a time of social distancing, our parish family can remain close through modern social media. I am ever grateful for their insight and their priesthood.
I know I have not mentioned everyone who works at St. Francis - maintenance, musicians, aides, school staff - but my words include my admiration and gratitude of each and every single employee of St. Francis of Assisi.
As I write this I am literally brought to tears in love and gratitude for employees, faculty, staff, and priests of St. Francis of Assisi parish. Where would we be without you? You have listened amid clamor, stayed steady in changing circumstances, sacrificial in the face of need, prudent in view of uncertainty, and self-giving amidst demand. Your valiance and effort calls to mind the words of St. Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:9).
Yes, our parish has been hit by an earthquake; but, because of you, St. Francis of Assisi has remained only shaken… not broken.
It is my hope that every parishioner of St. Francis showers the employees, faculty and staff of St Francis with prayers and acts of gratitude.
With all my heart, and speaking on behalf of every parishioner of St. Francis, I say, “Thank you.”