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Parishes must embrace digital technology after pandemic, Sunshine Coast priest says

Digital future: Behind the scenes of Caloundra parish’s live-stream recording set up on June 4, where associate priest Fr Lam Vu is offering Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary church. Caloundra parish priest Fr Peter Brannelly says parishes need to embrace these new technologies once coronavirus is over. Photo: Fr Josh Whitehead.

MILLIONS around the world have accepted that life after coronavirus will require a digital upgrade, and Caloundra parish priest Fr Peter Brannelly believes parishes are no exception.

After three months of live-streaming daily and weekend Masses on Facebook – attracting thousands of views each week – Fr Brannelly is preparing to make the digital upgrade permanent.

He said parishes needed to accept that the entire world, parishes included, could not go back to “the way things were” before coronavirus.

“We need to be thinking, the new evangelisation is being presented to us, let’s grasp it, and seeing the pandemic now as an opportunity to embrace all this new tech,” Fr Brannelly said.

“Don’t be thinking of going back to the good old days of the newsletter.

“Technology, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter – that’s the way of the future, and every parish should be embracing that.”

On a practical note, Fr Brannelly understands a digital upgrade would require two important things – someone to do the work, and the resources to do a high quality job.

“Our staff should include digital managers,” Fr Brannelly said.

“The other side of it too, if this new evangelisation is important, we need to be professional about it and be prepared to resource.

“You can’t expect a Smith Corona typewriter to do the work of a computer, you can’t expect the little old iPhone to be the classy camera.”

This has been the motto for Fr Brannelly’s parish, which not only serves Catholics in the coastal suburb of Caloundra, but neighbouring picturesque rural suburbs as well.

It’s an aging population, and the majority of parishioners are seniors, but even they have embraced the digital divide.

“The real story is how we have all taken up technology, even my 90 year olds,” Fr Brannelly said.

Fr Josh Whitehead, the youngest priest in Caloundra parish who celebrated his first anniversary as a priest on May 31, said the suspension of Mass caught him and his fellow priests by surprise.

He took charge in getting Masses online for their community.

“I found out on a Wednesday that Sunday Mass was cancelled, on that Wednesday I created a new parish Facebook page, on the Thursday morning, the following day, we went live for the first time for 9am Mass,” Fr Whitehead said.

“We’ve been live ever since every single day at 9am.”

Fr Whitehead said the live-stream Masses went from an amateur production to studio quality.

They started with an iPad, tripod and mount, donated by their parish school, Our Lady of the Rosary Primary school.

The “production value” increased when Fr Whitehead invested in a handheld microphone for the iPad, and with advice from his brother – “a whiz when it comes to audio visual technology” – purchased a mobile audio system that plugs straight into the church’s sound system.

“(Parishioners) feel like they are right there at Mass, participating as best as they can at the altar and the ambo,” Fr Whitehead said.

“That’s real time feedback we receive from people, nothing but good feedback on the production value.”

Asked if live-stream Masses were the way of the future, Fr Whitehead hoped it would be offered “only to the extent that an online celebration of Mass allows people who cannot get to Mass to participate”.

Outside of that, he’s looking forward to the day he can say Mass in front of a full congregation.

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith lives, and that’s not just in a spiritual communion, like we’ve been praying over the last couple of months,” Fr Whitehead said.

“Actual reception of Jesus’ body and blood has been, is, and will continue to be the source and summit of our faith lives.

“That means yes, we will more than likely continue to celebrate Mass online for the benefit of those who cannot get to Mass due to mobility and age, but the literal physical gathering of the Body of Christ, it’s overwhelmingly important that we get back to that.”

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