Charismatic Renewal Ministry goes digital during the pandemic but big numbers continue
The Diocesan Office of Charismatic Renewal (OCR) has been renowned over the years for its huge in-person gatherings, Congresses and prayer meetings. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit early in 2020 this Diocesan ministry, like most others, was forced to adapt to a whole new way of accompanying the people – driven by technology. Marina Carrion, Director of OCR, offered some reflections on this change and how her ministry has managed to stay connected to the people.
“We can be found mainly on our Facebook page: RCCH Diocese of San Bernardino,” she says. “Our events and activities of evangelization are for all prayer groups, but also open to those who want to live an experience of God.”
How would you describe the experience of offering ministry virtually, compared to the in-person gatherings your ministry has always offered?
I would describe this virtual experience as something very positive that I never imagined could become so effective; I always had my reservations about making virtual ministry because, in the spirituality of charismatic renewal, the message of faith that is shared, the moments of prayer that are lived, the testimonies that are given come accompanied by gestures, contact, closeness and expressions. Even in the training workshops, we always prefer to give them in person because the joy of meeting one another creates community, builds families in the faith and this is very typical of Charismatic Renewal. We have been pleasantly surprised to see how this new method of gathering still has produced the same movement in people. We feel the need for prayer, the need for messages of faith and hope to awaken their spirits in these trying times. With great amazement we have seen that even in the midst of limitations on the inexperience of the use of technology, we are all adapting. In the beginning we were met with a lot of hesitation from prayer groups stating the lack of knowledge of how to access the new platform, but gradually we’ve seen an increase as they have sought help in their children and others to help them connect. We’ve now come to the point where our weekly virtual Wednesday gatherings have surpassed in attendance our live gathering.
What have been some of the challenges of virtual ministry?
One of the challenges we have faced has been reaching all the members of the prayer groups. Previously, the main contact was with the group coordinators and with the help of volunteers we could visit the groups and reach the people from the community. Everything happened so quickly, that many coordinators lost contact with their communities and there was only contact with the most constant servers of the groups, so it has been a challenge to be able to promote to all the people we did before. Not having the ease of hosting volunteers as we did before in the office to make personalized calls has also contributed to our slow progress of outreach, and we have had to create new ways of reaching members. Charismatic Renewal cannot lose personal contact. Even if we invite by Facebook or other means on the web, it takes close motivation to get people to connect to different activities and maintain weekly attendance. Because of the difficult situation, personalized contact especially in this time is indispensable. People are in need of listening, sharing what happens to them, what they are living, their fears, their breaks and that is a challenge for us in the office since we do not have staff who can do it. We are moving at a slower pace, but God has still blessed our efforts.
The other challenge is the finances. Before the in-person activities had the possibility of generating an offering that helped maintain our evangelization programs and if they were formative, there was an inscription that generated an offering. Now it is a challenge to get people to register for workshops and activities, fill out forms of registration and make a donation online. So as not to lose participants, we focus on making it easier for them to participate in events, even if they don’t give an offering.
What have been some of the blessings of virtual ministry?
We have achieved uniting families. Many members of our office share the link with their families to our Wednesday gatherings, so they join wherever they are located. We have families viewing from all over the world such as Mexico, Central America, South America and various states! This has resulted in families being more in touch and sharing messages of faith with one another.
Another important blessing is reaching out to the sick and people who could not physically attend activities. Before the pandemic we had a good number of members from far areas such as Coachella, Blythe, Barstow, and Hemet to mention some, who for various health reasons could no longer participate in live activities due to distance. Now they are happily connecting to us and have asked us to continue this method once things return to normal. We have also been able to bring encouragement and comfort to those who suffer from COVID-19. Weekly we get prayer requests from ill members and they come join and ask for prayers. This has allowed them to feel close and connected. They feel encouraged in their faith and get some joy from our charismatic gatherings.
What has been the level of participation in your Virtual Programs?
The level of participation has been excellent. The weekly live assembly we had every Wednesday regularly involved between 200 and 300 people. On special nights, about 500 people attended, coming from the six vicariates of our Diocese. Now, with the virtual assemblies we are holding an attendance of 2,500 to 5,000 people every time. The vast majority come from the prayer groups, people in general and brothers and sisters of other parish ministries of the different vicariates of our Diocese. Plus, people are inviting all their relatives in different parts of the world.
What have you and others in the ministry learned about doing ministry virtually?
We have learned that virtual service is a good and effective tool for evangelization and that the Holy Spirit acts powerfully and unpredictably. There is no impediment to continuing evangelization. This fills us with confidence. We have learned the grace of abandonment, for this is God’s work. There are many testimonies that come to us from healings, from familial reconciliations, from conversions of brothers who for many years have lived far from God and through a moment of prayer, or from a word that has been proclaimed, God has touched their lives. People send their prayer requests for their different needs, many are public in YouTube comments, others arrive through private messages. We’re accompanying them through this virtual service. All this makes us consider that we will continue to offer this virtual service even if everything normalizes. This medium opens doors and opportunities to reach the unevangelized. I invite all ministries to live the experience of virtual service! Everything is gained, nothing is lost and by these means we can now come, with the advancement of technology, to realize Jesus’ command when he said: “To the ends of the earth!”