By Dan Russo
CEDAR RAPIDS — Coffee and donuts after Mass is one of many traditions parishes have had to put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. With people missing face-to-face time with their church community, the staff at the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Dubuque (CFAD) has developed a digital alternative.
On May 3, over 20 people from St. Jude Parish in Cedar Rapids attended a virtual “coffee and donuts” using the online meeting program Zoom. CFAD handled the registration, logistics and promotional information. The parish staff promoted the event locally.
But this was not exactly a typical Zoom meeting. After a general introduction given to the entire crowd, participants were able to break out in to smaller groups or “tables” to talk. Each table then got an individual visit from Father Mark Murphy, pastor of the parish, just as may happen at an actual coffee and donuts session in a parish. For those who didn’t have computer access or didn’t wish to be on camera, a phone number was made available to call in.
“I think people are craving that connection,” said Michele Brock, CFAD’s executive director.
Participants discussed a variety of topics, including how they are handling Sunday worship at home. Most reported watching their local parish Masses on the parish website or social media channel.
“The only difference is when we’re five minutes late to Mass, Father Mark doesn’t give us a dirty look,” joked parishioner Barry Riffe.
Many have tried to make a sacred space in their homes by putting Easter candles or religious statues near the screens they’re using to watch the liturgy or by dimming the lights. Even so, most people, including 15-year-old Samuel Hoffman, were eager to get back to in person Masses.
“It just feels different,” he said. “It’s not fully there.”
Hoffman attended the virtual event with his parents Jeff and Kathleen. They said the ability to spend more time together as a family was an unexpected blessing that resulted from the pandemic, but Jeff also stressed that it is important to be alone.
“We also need to find time for ourselves, just to get some self-time,” said the father.
Some of the parish staff attended the gathering, including Jenny Murray, the music director. She described adaptions she has made when helping with Mass live streams, including the way she selects the music. “We have to use public domain stuff,” she said, alluding to the fact that copyright laws must be followed.
Kari Hill, the coordinator of religious education, reported that she has been using technology a lot more than before, but also takes regular time away from the digital world. She has turned her regular walks into a spiritual exercise. “I like to make it more of a prayer time,” she said.
CFAD, which helps donors and others support Catholic organizations, is willing to aid any parish in setting up virtual coffee and donuts events.
“It’s meant to bring parishioners together for community,” explained Brock. “With Mass online, the parishioners can see the priest, but he can’t see them and they can’t see each other. This is a way to have a parish life activity to bring people together with each other and their priest.”
Those who would like help with setting up a virtual coffee and donuts event for their parishes, can email Brock at m.brock@OurCFAD.org. More information on CFAD is at OurCFAD.org.
Participants chat during the virtual coffee and donuts held for a parish in Cedar Rapids May 3. (Screen shot by Dan Russo/The Witness)