SAN DIEGO — Continuing to minister during a pandemic and a lockdown has forced the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality to get creative.
The problem was how to continue serving married couples and families in an age of social distancing. The solution has been increased social media activity, including the launch of two live video series, and a shift to virtual marriage preparation.
“If we’re not connecting with people on an individual level, then we’re kind of doing our ministry in a silo,” said John Prust, director of the Office for Family Life and Spirituality.
“If our office’s basic understanding is that our job is to help support families in growing in their relationship with Christ,” said Associate Director Janelle Peregoy, “the way that we’re doing that now is online.”
The Family Life and Spirituality Office filmed its first Facebook Live video on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, when Prust led an online rosary that received nearly 400 views.
Two days later, the office launched its first weekly series, “Family Live Friday.” Hosted by Prust, a live episode debuts every Friday morning.
In the first installment, Prust read from Scripture, gave a reflection on healing for the divorced, and concluded with a song. Since the second episode, the show has taken the form of an extended conversation between Prust and a guest. Guests have included his own associate directors, Peregoy and Ricardo Marquez, as well as others with interesting perspectives on family life.
For instance, Mary Acosta, the Diocese of San Diego’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, was the guest on April 17 in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. On May 1, Prust welcomed Diocesan Institute Director Gerardo Rojas for a discussion about “Star Wars, Family, and Faith” in anticipation of “Star Wars Day,” a fan holiday celebrated every year on May 4.
Other installments have covered such topics as “Family Prayer in Difficult Times,” “Mother’s Day Ideas” and “Teaching Kids to Care for Creation,” as well as “Family Traditions in Islam and Catholicism,” the latter being a conversation with Imam Taha Hassane of the Islamic Center of San Diego.
Peregoy said the new series has given the office a chance to showcase the diverse topics and groups that it works with on a regular basis in the course of its ministry.
“When we say ‘family life,’ it’s a big thing,” she said.
A second series, called “Love Brewing Café,” debuted May 13 on Facebook. It consists of a live conversation between Prust and a local married couple, who reflect on their relationship and how they have experienced grace through the sacrament of matrimony. New episodes have been appearing on a regularly basis.
“Marriage Stories,” a companion series to “Love Brewing Café,” airs live on Instagram. Its first episode was released May 20.
“It’s the same idea, just a different format,” Prust said of the two shows, explaining that “Love Brewing Café” is interview-based, while “Marriage Stories” gives couples a chance to speak directly and unfiltered to viewers.
The office has had other virtual offerings, as well. It hosted an online Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. A “date night” event featuring Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Donna Scott had been scheduled to take place March 19 at Green Flash Brewery in Mira Mesa, but was canceled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; it was rescheduled and held June 4 via Zoom.
Because of the uncertainty about when social distancing restrictions would be lifted, the Family Life and Spirituality Office also began offering its marriage preparation programs virtually.
“Celebrating Your Love Day,” a diocesan one-day retreat for couples preparing for marriage, was held virtually for the first time on May 16. About 40 couples participated via Zoom. The “Celebrating Your Love Days” that had been set for March and April were both canceled. Like the May event, those in June and July also will be held virtually.
Catholic Engaged Encounter has also shifted its marriage preparation weekend retreats online amidst the pandemic. Though not run by the Family Life and Spirituality Office, Prust said, Engaged Encounter is “a wonderful resource in the Diocese of San Diego for a marriage prep retreat.”
Though the Family Life and Spirituality Office’s recent foray into the virtual realm was borne out of necessity, the office’s leadership says it is likely to continue.
“We don’t have any timeline where we’re going to go back to normal,” said Marquez, referring to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and he added that the office does not want “to push that” and return to in-person events prematurely.
Peregoy sees the office’s virtual offerings as compatible with its desire to improve outreach to younger Catholics.
“Virtual stuff’s not going away,” she said. “We’re going to be continuing to do it, regardless of when life can quote-unquote return to normal.”