DANBURY—At a time when many are searching for reassurance and yearning for connection, the clergy at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Danbury are offering just that.
Father Michael Dunn and Father Christopher Ford have recently begun holding “Fireside at 4” live chats on Facebook, during which parishioners can ask questions and engage in virtual conversation.
The idea came about after a conversation between Father Ford and Father Dunn. They discussed wanting to open up an opportunity for casual conversation to parishioners. Devon McCormick, pastoral assistant at St. Greg’s, had the idea that they structure it in a way similar to “Theology on Tap” events, where people send in questions for the clergy members to answer.
“Really, we just wanted another way to reach out to our community,” McCormick explains. “Both Father Dunn and Father Ford have such a wonderful relationship with our parishioners—they are seen as approachable and accessible in a way that I think is really special, so we knew that we needed to give the parishioners an opportunity to talk with them as they normally would at any of our events.”
McCormick explains that the response from parishioners was immediate. After getting the word out early in the week, the fireside chat had over 900 views total, with over 100 tuning in for the live conversation. Views came from all over, including Massachusetts, Indianapolis, Ohio and Texas.
“The truth is, most of our parishioners typically only see us at Mass or for very brief moments afterwards,” explains Father Ford. “So, I think we see this as an opportunity for two things. First and foremost, for us to be able to minister to our people in whatever way we can, even if that’s electronically. We certainly have to be creative in these challenging times to make sure our people know their shepherds are still there for them, still caring for them. But at the same time, it’s also a chance for us to share with them a little more about who we really are—as priests, as men and as fellow pilgrims on this journey to heaven.”
“A reason why we did this is that people are hungry right now,” says Father Dunn. “Being home bound, unable to come to Mass and with little to do, they are looking to be nourish and fed spiritually. Proof of this is the great amount of people that are tuning into our live streaming Masses, Stations, Divine Mercy and others. We have a great opportunity right now to evangelize a captive audience, and an audience that because of the pandemic, is turning to God and looking for something more, looking for God in all this. At the same time through the “Fireside at 4,” we can minister from home and nourish our own souls as well.”
After an opening prayer, Father Dunn opened up the conversation by commiserating with the viewers that this has been a very difficult time for us all. “But it can also be used as a very fruitful time,” he said.
Father Dunn and Father Ford discussed that they have tried to turn this time into a more grace-filled one by enjoying the extra time for rest, taking time to read and get outside. Both priests expressed that spending time in prayer and spiritual reading has helped them remain joyful during this difficult time.
They then opened up the question to parishioners, curious as to how everyone was doing. Suzanne Cura, principal of St. Gregory the Great School was available to film and read questions aloud.
Father Ford explained that the hardest thing for him as a priest is that most of what they do is centered around people, and the way that they have had to do that has radically changed. They are ministering to people more over the phone, rather than in person, which presents a challenge.
“Being able to minister to people and serve people is what feeds us,” said Father Dunn, “and although we’ve been able to feed our priesthood in other ways, not having that aspect is very difficult.”
When asked how one can find God in all of this, Father Ford reassured listeners that God can bring the good out of any situation, no matter how dire. “Faith, hope and love are always available,” he said, “they are always choices that we can make no matter what is going on around us.”
Father Dunn shared, “my hope is that when this is over, maybe this can serve as a rebirth for our faith and Church.”
Both Father Dunn and Father Ford shared books that they are reading during this time, and parishioners requested they share a list of the books, along with a synopsis and what they liked about them.
Parishioners were glad to see that both Father Ford and Father Dunn were able to maintain their good sense of humor despite the current climate.
Rest assured, these chats will continue every Sunday at 4 until public Mass is reinstated.
(“Fireside at 4” chats will be available to view on St. Gregory’s website: www.stgregdanbury.org.)