Celebrating Parish Traditions during COVID-19

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Father David BonnarWhen I first arrived at my previous assignment 11 years ago, I remember the principal saying, “Father, there is a word you will hear a lot around here. The word is tradition.” Indeed, like any family, a faith community is woven together by various traditions like festivals and events. They are more than just traditions, because, in so many ways, they build community and sometimes even raise funds for the mission.

In this time of pandemic, some of these special traditions have been seriously challenged, in large part because they are a magnet for larger gatherings of people. Obviously, given the risks of the virus, many parishes have had to make concessions and compromises, even to the point of postponing certain traditions.

In my new assignment, which I assumed July 1, 2020, there is a tradition that reportedly spans 130 years called the Harvest Home Festival. This gathering brings people together for food and fun, builds community and serves as a fundraiser for the parish and school.

Due to the pandemic, the committee had to submit a COVID-19 safety plan to the diocese and seek approval for the modified event, which became simply a dinner to be picked up in the church parking lot. With the approval of the diocese and following all the necessary safety protocols, dedicated volunteers prepared meals all week long in anticipation of this event. Nearly 1,800 meals were served that day. One by one, cars filed into the parking lot to receive their meals in a span of six hours. The event sold out. A spirit of community was experienced in a time of great isolation and much needed income was raised for the parish and school.

During that day, my parochial vicar and I roamed through the parking lots to greet the people and to personally thank them for their patronage. For me as the new pastor, it was an opportunity to meet people in this time of pandemic, although it will be challenging putting names to faces due to the masks. Nevertheless, it was truly heartwarming walking alongside the vehicles, speaking with the faithful as they moved through the long line to collect their food, which was ordered and paid for online.

I not only was able to converse with the patrons but the volunteers as well. For example, I spoke at length with two of the parking lot attendants. The first attendant’s name was Walt, who was so proud to have his sons assisting him. Walt shared with me that 17 years ago when he and his wife were married, they chose as the Gospel for their wedding the house built upon the rock that can withstand the test of time. He said that the Church is their foundation. Walt serves as an usher at holy Mass and his children have served at Mass. He truly loves Jesus and his Church. His actions in the two months that I have been in the parish certainly corroborate this love.

The second attendant I met was Greg, who stood further down the line. I could hear him engaging the faithful. He was so hospitable. Greg, too, is an usher. He recognized many familiar faces of whom he has not seen in a long time because of the pandemic. He invited many of these people to come to the weekly parking lot Mass.

After reflecting on this wonderful tradition, I came to see why it is called the Harvest Home Festival. It is not just the fall-like foods served, such as chicken, ham and pull-apart pork, but the spirit of faith that flows from “the first Church” — namely, the family. How proud the parents of these men would be knowing that they remain so committed to the family tradition of the Church and are living examples of the harvest of the home. What a Harvest Home Festival it was! Thank God for traditions. Thank God for family.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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