Epiphany Parish in Sayre recently broadcast funeral Mass with 700 viewers
SAYRE – What began with just a cell phone and tripod last year at Epiphany Parish has now turned into a brand new ministry aimed at keeping people connected.
It was Palm Sunday 2020 when the parish in northern Bradford County livestreamed its first Mass to Facebook. While there were initial glitches and audio problems, they were quickly corrected.
“We had to make sure that we, first of all, had internet in the Church. We did not so we had to run a booster router from the front of the rectory to the back of the rectory,” Rev. Andrew S. Hvozdovic, pastor, said.
At the urging of parishioners, Father Hvozdovic decided to make the parish’s livestreaming equipment permanent. With the help of the church organist, Larry Hoey, who did a lot of research, the parish decided to invest in a professional two-camera set-up for the church.
“We have a camera mounted now on the choir loft and we have a second camera that is mounted on the first pillar of the church and that one rotates so we are now able to get shots as we process in from the back of the church and close ups on the altar,” Father Hvozdovic explained.
The parish has also created an area where the Masses are professionally produced with computers and graphics. In all, the cost of the equipment has been about $10,000.
While a significant expense, Father Hvozdovic says donations covered the cost. Parishioners were happy to donate to the effort after a request was placed in the parish bulletin.
“We’re getting donations from people all over the country who used to live in Sayre that moved away. We’re hearing messages that they’re thrilled that they’re able to reconnect with their home parish,” Father Hvozdovic added.
Since Mother’s Day 2020, Epiphany Parish has been professionally broadcasting its 9:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday morning.
“We’re reaching out to parishioners, for example, that have not attended Mass even prior to COVID for health reasons and now they’re thrilled because they’re able to participate in the Mass. We have Eucharistic ministers that go after the 9:00 o’clock Mass on Sunday to their homes and actually bring them communion,” Father added.
Besides keeping the faithful connected, starting the livestreaming efforts have also connected parishioners in another way.
“It has helped us to form a whole new ministry,” Father Hvozdovic explained. “We call it our technology ministry in the parish. We have high school kids who are assisting with this. We have five or six adults that are assisting with it as well.”
Working closely with the Parish Pastoral Council to institute the technology ministry, Epiphany’s pastor believes the livestreaming efforts have opened up a completely new way of spreading the Gospel message.
“I told the Pastoral Council, what would Jesus do if he had technology? I think he would take advantage of it as we are too,” he explained.
The parish now even offers livestreaming of all funerals as part of its bereavement ministry.
One funeral in February 2021 had approximately 700 people viewing it from all over the country.
“A lot of the second cousins and third cousins and great uncles and aunts just could not come. We had family viewers who were watching it from all over the country,” Father Hvozdovic said.
Even as more people have returned to church for in-person Masses, viewership on the livestream has been consistent.
“The viewership has remained very steady and we’re surprised by that because people are returning to church because people are getting vaccinated and they’re feeling more comfortable to return to church,” Father Hvozdovic said.
When asked if he believes Epiphany Parish will continue livestreaming Masses even after the coronavirus pandemic ends, the Sayre pastor said simply, “Yes. This is the new norm.”
In the Diocese of Scranton, more than 75-percent of parishes have started livestreaming Masses over the last year.
For those that have not yet started, Father Hvozdovic believes there is an unfounded fear.
“I think it’s just the fear of the unknown of technology. I just encourage guys, saying you’re going to have to do this, bite the bullet, go out of your comfort zone. It is possible and very, very much appreciated,” he explained.
Father Hvozdovic says the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.
“People really like to attend their own church. That is what I hear so much. People who have left the area or have been homebound prior to COVID say it’s so great I can worship in my own church again via the internet,” he added.