'Mass Mobs' hope to bring crowds to Rochester churches
Two Rochester bloggers have organized the Rochester Mass Mob with the aim to bring dozens -- and possibly hundreds -- of strangers together to take part in worship at local historic churches.
This month, the Rochester Mass Mob will be at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, 1124 Hudson Ave., Rochester, for Mass at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 18. The church also will be open for tours and an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. that day. The church recently completed a renovation and houses a relic of Pope John Paul II, who was canonized April 27.
The event is the second Mass Mob in Rochester, and the first in a Catholic church. The first Mass Mob took place March 9 at Rochester' First Universalist Church. Local religious history buffs Chris Clemens and Luke Myer, who write the blog "Exploring the Burned Over District," said dozens showed up to Rochester’s first Mass Mob, and they say they hope to see even more at the second.
Myer said the Universalist church noted that its average attendance is about 60 or 70, but on the day of the Mass Mob, there were more than 120 people there.
"We were pleasantly surprised that we pretty much doubled their attendance there," he said.
The Mass Mob effort sprang from a Buffalo group that originated the concept last year.
Christopher Byrd of the Buffalo suburb Snyder, who chronicles Buffalo’s Polish history and happenings in his blog "Broadway-Fillmore Alive," said the idea had several roots. He said he had organized a Facebook Mass several years ago, in which all those who liked the St. Adalbert Basilica page on Facebook were encouraged to attend a Mass together at the basilica. Additionally, about a year ago, "cash mobs" spread across Buffalo, and area residents would show up at a designated time to shop at a small local retailer.
"A light bulb went off in my head," Byrd said. "We have a lot of older churches, glorious old Buffalo churches built by largely an immigrant population whose parishioner totals are very small."
So Byrd thought social media could be used to bring people together on a regular basis to explore Buffalo’s historic churches.
Byrd noted that after coming up with the idea, he realized he needed help planning so he wrangled the assistance of three friends: Danielle Huber, Greg Witul and former Rochesterian Alan Oberst.
"We call ourselves ‘mobsters,’" Byrd said.
The idea for the Mass Mob was to bring a needed shot in the arm to the historic inner city churches highlighted by the event.
"This is all about bringing people to worship to a church for a financial boost and to draw attention to historic churches," Byrd said. "The churches themselves are in awe of the number of people who show up."
Buffalo’s first Mass Mob took place in November 2013 at St. Adalbert Basilica and drew about 400 people, as did the second in January at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo. More than 800 people showed up at the third Buffalo Mass Mob, which took place in March at St. John Kanty Church.
"For whatever reason, this has really resonated here locally and nationally," Byrd said.
The Rochester expansion is just one of many to grow from Buffalo’s experience. Mass Mobs are popping up in New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans, and the Buffalo Mass Mob website, http://buffalomassmob.wordpress.com, has instructions on how others can bring it to their cities. Byrd noted that the group has been contacted by national and international journalists from around the country writing about the concept.
Clemens said during travels in the Buffalo area, he and Myer learned of the Mass Mob concept and decided to bring it to Rochester.
"Our goal here in Rochester is to rebuild the city and community and we would like to see people coming together and supporting all places of great religiosity," Clemens said.
He added that, like Buffalo, the Rochester group plans to organize a Mass Mob every few months to ensure that parishioners are not called away from their home parishes too frequently, and to ensure that the concept retains its novelty.
"I think overall it was very positive and if anything, the church got free publicity from it," Myer said of Rochester's first Mass Mob. "I think that can be very helpful in this day and age."
Byrd said the Mass Mobs in Buffalo have drawn non-Catholics as well as Catholics and has helped to make people feel more welcome and unified. The host churches also have embraced the idea, he said.
"They love seeing the church filled with people," Byrd said. "It helps them and it kind of energizes them."
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EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on the Rochester Mass Mob, visit www.rocmassmob.org. Parking at St. Stanislaus Kostka will be in the back lot behind the church, on the street or in the lot across the street from the church.