Throughout the Diocese of Burlington, many parishes are tapping into the power of social media communication — which Pope Francis referred to as “closeness” — to strengthen bonds with parishioners and encourage others to deepen their relationship with God and the Church.

Kerry Morton, administrative assistant at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro, is responsible for much of their digital media. She explained that the parish uses its webpage, Facebook page and Instagram account to let parishioners and the wider community know “there is a God who loves them … and who waits for them at Mass, in the tabernacle, in our adoration chapel and in the sacraments. They have a good Mother Mary, brothers and sisters in the saints and all of us here on Earth who love them and want to help them in their faith journey.”

She said the parish wants people to know the beauty, wonder and gift of the Sacrament of Baptism, so social media posts include photos of baptisms. The parish wants people to know that Jesus is with them in sorrow and sadness, so posts include obituaries and photos of deceased parishioners and the dates and times of funerals along with requests for prayers.

“We want them to know the greatness of the Sacrament of Marriage so we post photos of our weddings – with great joy and welcome to these families,” Morton said. “We post photos of our soup kitchen, St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry, so that people will know they can come for a hot meal and just to be loved for who they are.”

Posts are selected to reach people at all ages and stages of life and include parish and diocesan events; scripture; saint quotes; the liturgical season; Church guidelines; thoughts from Pope Francis, Bishop Coyne, and pastor Father Justin Baker; and helpful articles about the faith.

“We sometimes highlight a parishioner or family. We post old photos in our segment entitled #flashbackfriday, and we’ve recently added fun memes to learn about the faith,” Morton said. The parish also reaches out to the homebound by televising weekly Mass with the help of parishioner, Al New, and a group of people who videotape the liturgy. “He then edits, puts them on YouTube and coordinates with our local BCTV station. They are televised on Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. and Tuesdays at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” Morton said, adding, “Father Justin and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion bring Eucharist to the homebound each week, but this gives them a way to be part of the Mass by making a spiritual communion.”

New received an award this year from BCTV for his volunteer work in the parish.

Father Dallas St. Peter, pastor of St. Mark Parish in Burlington, said the parish uses social media outreach “as a way to welcome more people to the parish and to let people know who we are and what we are doing and offering.”

Father St. Peter explained that, as part of its social media outreach, the parish uses Front Porch Forum, an online platform designed to help Vermont neighbors communicate and build community.

While Father St. Peter primarily posts to FPF, he explained that Mary Lou Monell, a parish volunteer, maintains the parish Facebook page, which has 1,400 followers.

Monell acknowledged her practice of posting daily, with a variety of messages, is done with the hope “that people will look forward to seeing what will be posted for that day. Some may be serious, some funny, some cute and a lot of wishing people the best. … I search for something that may brighten someone’s day.” That, she added, can make a big difference for someone whose day is not going well. “I think variety keeps their interest … and keeps them coming back. If they come back over and over, our message is reaching them.”

The number of Facebook followers is significant, Monell said, because “with more people being brought to our page, we are able to spread God’s word and bring people to our parish.”

Simeon Lewis, parish director of evangelization and faith formation, sees an on-line presence as a powerful and “relevant tool for communication and community building.” Digital media offers a flexibility which allows people to “be inspired in their own time.” Meeting people where they are, which is what takes place online, is a significant way people are interacting today, he said, stressing, “It’s important to use those interactions for evangelization.”

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.