Looking out from the sanctuary at the congregation during Mass on Easter Sunday, Deacon Gregory Kiley was overcome with an overwhelming sense of joy as he watched parishioners of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Clyde — some of whom he had not seen in a year — worship and receive the Eucharist.
“It was one of the most moving things I had seen in my almost 35 years of diaconal ministry,” Deacon Kiley said.
In June 2020, New York state allowed houses of worship to reopen for in-person services with such safety restrictions in place as capacity limits, wearing masks and social distancing.
Despite these and other restrictions, permanent deacons in the Diocese of Rochester have continued to find ways to conduct their ministries amid the challenges of the pandemic.
Adjusting his ministry during the pandemic has been both a tough and emotional experience, Deacon Kiley said. Prior to COVID-19, he was accustomed to ministering in the homes of parishioners, including many who are homebound and elderly. That “completely stopped, and that was kind of devastating, and it was also kind of strange,” he said.
But Deacon Kiley found another way to remain in contact with parishioners. For such special occasions as holidays when the parish would send parishioners emails with boilerplate text, he took the time to add a personalized line or two to each email and to send them all individually.
Deacon Kiley also had to stop pastoral visits at Wayne County Nursing Home and DeMay Living Center due to health and safety restrictions at those facilities. Instead, he gets together with Wayne County Nursing Home residents every Friday via the Zoom video-conferencing platform.
In addition to curtailing outreach in the community, safety and health restrictions also have changed how deacons conduct ministry within church buildings.
Part of Deacon Joseph Placious’ ministry at Holy Cross Church in Rochester includes preaching at liturgies. During the early phase of the pandemic, he had to get used to preaching to completely empty pews while his congregation participated via livestream.
“It was a learning experience to preach to an empty church and just to a camera,” he said.
Deacon Douglas Farwell also has had to learn new ways of ministering to people, not only at Ss. Isidore & Maria Torribia Parish in Addison/Bradford/Campbell, but also in his chaplaincy work at Elmira Correctional Facility.
At the correctional facility, for example, the celebration of Masses ceased in March 2020 and just recently resumed. So during the pandemic, Deacon Farwell instead ministered to inmates through such means as one-on-one visits to cell blocks and offering Bible studies for a limited number of individuals once such gattherings were allowed to resume in July.
Meanwhile, Deacon Kevin R. Carges of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Mendon has not yet been able to return to his primary pre-pandemic form of ministry — travel.
During Lenten seasons before the pandemic, Deacon Carges typically visited churches around the country as a guest homilist on behalf of Catholic Relief Services. Although he has not been able to travel, he said he has continued raising funds for CRS and hosting both Zoom and in-person Bible-study classes for young adults.
“Life is full of obstacles, but with our community, friends and people that we love and care about, we can always overcome regardless of whatever happens in our life, because God’s there, and he’ll show us the way,” Deacon Carges said. “It’ll work out, maybe not the way I’d like it, but it’ll work out the way God wants it.”