ENFIELD – A pastor ascends the pulpit, preparing to read from the Gospel. He looks out at the assembly and sees they are all standing, as they should be; but something looks odd.
They are all looking down at their cell phones.
Does the pastor gently reprimand his flock? Not in this parish. They are simply following along, silently reading the Gospel on their phones as their pastor reads it aloud.
Welcome to the myParish app, an electronic liturgical aid for Android and Apple smartphones and tablets that may soon be used in your parish.
“I had been serving at the archbishop’s request on the committee that has been helping with the transition of the Transcript to the print publication magazine,” said Father Timothy Hickey, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Enfield. Members of that committee, which included members of the Office of Pastoral Planning, met with the developers of the myParish app in May 2016. A decision was later made to try out the app in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“I [chose] to be kind of like the guinea pig; Holy Family got to be the guinea pig to see how it works, how we could use it,” Father Hickey said by phone.
The myParish app was developed by Diocesan & Trinity Publications, which states on the myParishapp.com website that it “helps build stronger Catholic communities and better engage the New Evangelization.” Features include icons for messages between parishioners, a calendar of parish events, daily and Sunday readings, parish and school information and news, uploaded homilies, Mass times, confession times, bulletins and more.
“You have the availability to tailor it specifically to your parish,” Father Hickey said. In the background of the home screen of the Holy Family Parish’s version, for example, is an unobtrusive photo of the church’s stained-glass window depicting the Holy Family.
About 300 parishioners have downloaded the app since the parish adopted it in August 2016, he said. “I’ve had anecdotal conversations with parishioners and found a range of ages. My confirmation students have it, so that’s an opportunity for a messaging board where we can send messages to them and they can send messages to me about curriculum changes or reading changes. So we know we have some teenagers who have downloaded it.”
Father Hickey is also the administrator of the app at his parish, a task he says is not difficult or time-consuming. “I can create a week’s worth of messages and post them all at the same time, and then they all get fed out one per day at a designated time,” he said. “Doing the bulletin, that’s another function, uploading the bulletin. Uploading the podcast, that’s another function. You can set up the link to online giving, and once you do that, it’s set. Once you set up the Mass times, that’s done.”
He believes that the app is easy to use for people of all ages who are familiar with smartphones.
“These phones are such a part of our lives now that it just seems to make sense to me that we should make this product available for people to use,” he said. “I would encourage its widespread use. The people from our parish who have downloaded it and use it have said that they listen to the homilies as they commute. They listen to the podcasts. Anything that makes your faith an expression of everyday life, not just one hour every week, is important.”
He said the app can help Catholics to stay connected to their faith seven days a week.
“Our faith is something that we live every day,” he said. “So that thing that’s in your pocket pretty much all the time gives you access to faith content, gives you access to prayers, to reflections, to all kinds of spiritual readings – reminders to go to confession, reminders of Mass times, all of those things that would be enhancing to a person’s spiritual life if they avail themselves of it. So that kind of integrates your electronic life with your faith life. I would say it’s like any tool. If you have a missal and you don’t use it, if you have a Magnificat and you don’t use it, then shame on you. But if we make it available and show you how it can be integrated into a person’s life, so much the better.”
Karin Nobile, special assistant to the archbishop, said the Archdiocese of Hartford’s communications department plans to introduce the app early in 2017.
“The app will be free and available to all parishes as part of a new working relationship that the archdiocese has forged with FAITH Catholic, which supports the publishing efforts of more than 25 dioceses throughout the United States,” she wrote in an email.
Participation will not be mandatory, but based on the “Your Voice Counts” survey and focus group results, she anticipates a good response.
“A majority of more than 17,500 survey respondents said they want to see the archdiocese pursue new forms of communications; especially ones that are purposefully evangelizing and catechetical in nature,” she wrote. “The new Catholic Transcript magazine, coupled with the availability of an app, will be essential instruments in fostering wider education and helping people feel more connected with their parish community, their archdiocese and their Catholic faith overall.”
She wrote that she is confident that parishes will find the app to be an effective tool.
“Parishes will be able to engage parishioners with customized messages, special events and reminders, and share other meaningful information to help build faith and community life. Parishioners, in turn, will have the capacity to tailor the app to meet their individual preferences and lifestyle needs – whether it be to receive daily Gospel reflections at lunch or while on break, or for someone homebound to stay connected to one’s faith practice by receiving homilies, prayers, video presentations and more. For all, the app will be purposefully evangelizing and catechetical,” she wrote.