VIRGINIA — It may seem like an unusual statement, especially with churches and places of worship closed for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It may seem even more odd when considering that the extroverted pastor who said it — accustomed to celebrating Mass with a church full of parishioners — is now saying Mass on Facebook Live in a church with empty pews.
But for the Rev. “Father Brandon” Moravitz, “I’ve never felt more like a priest than right now.”
Moravitz says the sentence with great enthusiasm, a smile lighting his face.
The pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia has been both smiling — and weeping — a lot lately.
“I laugh. I cry. I’m amazed,” he said. “My heart is on fire right now. I’m so on a mission to serve God. I’m overwhelmed.”
That’s because people are turning to their faith “during this time of confusion, anxiety and darkness,” he said. “The church is the light in the darkness.”
Despite state-mandated Stay-at-Home orders, non-essential business closures, and social distancing guidelines, the faith community is more connected than ever, he said.
The priest and parishioners have come up with rather creative ways to unite — perhaps in ways that make people feel more linked than ever, Moravitz said — during this time of social distancing.
It started with Fr. Brandon taking to Facebook Live to celebrate Mass at Holy Spirit after health organizations began recommending caps to crowd sizes, and President Donald Trump urged Americans to limit their socializing to groups of 10 or less to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The priest has used the tool many times in the past to communicate with the community, but he was unsure if a social media church service would actually catch on.
Catch on, it did.
Hundreds of viewers began logging in to watch and pray along. The “likes” and “loves” began popping up, one after another, and grateful, encouraging and heartfelt comments began rolling in.
“I wanted to weep,” Moravitz said on a recent day.
From that blossomed other prayer sessions held at various times of the day — all broadcast in real time (and available to view later) on Facebook Live.
“The response has been amazing,” Moravitz said.
And the parish found another way to connect — through a “light the night in prayer” campaign in which residents flip on their front porch light from 9 to 9:05 p.m., and simultaneously pray in their homes.
“Let’s unite in prayer each night in our neighborhoods and bring hope everywhere,” Fr. Brandon said on Facebook. Parishioners have been posting photos of their lit-up entryways, many including scripture passages and inspirational messages on the posts.
While Holy Spirit church remains open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for people to stop in and pray — everyone is asked to follow social distancing guidelines and there is hand sanitizer available — a number of parishioners have created small chapels in their homes as designated places to pray in the absence of a church setting, he said.
On the Sunday morning of March 22, Moravitz decided to try another new form of connecting the congregation — at a socially safe distance. Via Facebook, he notified parishioners that he would hold a drive-through blessing in the parish parking lot later that day.
The priest said he expected a handful of people would arrive in a few vehicles. But, before long, there was a line around the block.
Members of the parish community of Virginia, Mountain Iron, and beyond came out in full force. Many waited in line for more than 90 minutes for a two-minute blessing though their car windows, he said.
The ideas continue to bloom.
On Friday, the parish held an outdoor Stations of the Cross. Fourteen families around town prepared a simple place of prayer with signs in their windows or yards dedicated to one of the stations — a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion.
Parishioners engaged “on a small prayer pilgrimage in their cars” to pray at each of the stations, Moravitz said.
And on April 1, Holy Spirit will broadcast live from 9 to 11 a.m. on Real Presence Radio 106.7 FM. Discussion will revolve around the uplifting acts of faith that have occurred during the coronavirus pandemic.
But that’s not all.
The parish has also rallied around local businesses struggling with the current economic challenges.
Each day, Fr. Brandon draws the name of a restaurant or small business, announces it on Facebook, and parishioners conduct a “flash mob” throughout the day — flooding the place with take-out orders and purchases.
After all, many area businesses have donated to parish fundraisers. “It’s something we can do for them — a simple, ‘we are here for you’ to support our local community as they weather this storm,” he said.
“It’s beautiful to see the hunger for faith and community” amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 epidemic, he added.
Each day, parishioners and Facebook followers tune in for the priest’s live check-ins — a 10 a.m. morning prayer, the rosary at noon, reciting of the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m., and an 8:30 p.m. “reflection on the day” and evening prayer. Live Masses are held at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and at 10 a.m. each Sunday.
Videos are also being uploaded to YouTube and the church’s website, Moravitz said.
Additionally, the parish has started a resource center for people in need during the pandemic. Those who need emergency supplies such as food or diapers can contact the church at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m so proud of how our people are responding and uniting” during the crisis, Moravitz said. “I’m just one small little piece”— like a piece of tile in a mosaic, he said.
The pandemic has also opened people’s eyes to the vulnerable members of the community, said the priest. “People are rising up to protect the vulnerable, to care for the most forgotten. It’s an opportunity to live the hands and feet of Christ.”
The pastor said he hopes people remember to do the same “beyond this epidemic. … God is so tangible with all of that. … My love for the people has grown exponentially.”
Lent — which Christians are currently observing — “is a time of sacrifice and penance” leading up to the joyful celebration of Easter, “when Christ rose from the dead,” he said.
Unfortunately there is, and will continue to be, suffering because of COVID-19, said the priest.
“But one day when this has lifted,” he said of the pandemic, “we will hold a great celebration — a block party.”
And everyone is invited — “Catholic or not.”