A family welcome from St. John Vianney online

Brendan Kiel of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf reads from Scripture during a livestreamed prayer service called Taize Praise on May 6. Brendan’s parents, Eleanor and Micah Kiel, lead Taize Praise at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday nights from their home.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Lit candles in glass holders surround two framed images. One is an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, depicted in a tender pose with baby Jesus, and the other is a small, black and white painting of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. The items rest on a blue cloth tucked into a wall recess in the home of Micah and Eleanor Kiel and their sons Harrison and Brendan.

Welcome to Taize Praise on Wednesday nights on Facebook Live, one of the intimate ways that St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf reaches out to parishioners and others in the time of the coronavirus.

Eleanor, the parish’s director of liturgy and music, appears on camera (May 20), to welcome the online community into her family’s home. “We’ve had some gray days, so we’re lighting our candles to bring a little light into our home and we hope our prayer this evening brings a little light and goodness into your home as well.”


She explains that prayer in the style of Taize consists of short simple songs, sung in repetition. The prayer service also includes some readings, a brief time for silent prayer, intercessions and praise music at the end for fun and to give joyful praise to God.

Each family member participates in some way, mostly off camera, to maintain a meditative atmosphere. Husband Micah plays the guitar and sings along with Eleanor, who also provides accompaniment on the piano. Harrison plays the violin and usually gives one of the Scripture readings. Brendan plays percussion and also does a reading on occasion.

Opening her family’s home for half-hour virtual prayer services on Wednesdays (Taize Praise) and Sundays (Evening Prayer) at 6:30 p.m. on Facebook gives Eleanor an opportunity to continue her ministry. She also prepares and performs the music for the weekly Masses, which are livestreamed on Facebook and the website. During the week, she researches ideas for other opportunities in liturgy and music. “I felt this was a time to do more prayer,” she said, referring to the ongoing pandemic that has caused suspension of the public celebration of Mass and other liturgies.

“We have weekly staff meetings (via Zoom) and I have had monthly (or twice a month) meetings with our liturgy commission (via Zoom),” she said, for collaboration, coordination and brainstorming.

Eleanor describes the first week of the shutdown as a time to absorb the shock of the situation. Bishop Thomas Zinkula and his staff, including Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of liturgy, gave good guidance and general rules to help parishes to proceed, Eleanor said. “Even though the Mass is universal, there is a realization that people really want to connect with their own community.”

Eleanor gives credit also to Mitchell Narvasa, St. John Vianney’s pastoral associate for evangelization. He has the technological expertise to keep the ministries moving. “Most of our efforts have been via Facebook,” Mitchell says. “Our parish is sending out mini-bulletins every weekend to keep people posted with what’s going on. We’ve also been showing a video before Mass for the last three weeks highlighting religious education families and preschool graduates saying ‘Hello SJV’ and then a short message of encouragement at the end. These next coming weeks, we will be highlighting graduating high school seniors, confirmandi, and more Apostles of Hymn performances (a youth ensemble for students in 7th-12th grade).”

Mitchell provided some of the technological know-how that enabled Eleanor to pull off a virtual concert of Apostles of Hymn, which can be viewed on the parish’s website. “I had 23 who recorded themselves performing, which is pretty good participation,” she said.

St. John Vianney experienced strong activity on Facebook, even before Mitchell arrived, he said, because of Father Ross Epping, who led that effort when he served as the parish’s parochial vicar. “When I was hired, I wanted to continue that engagement with the parishioners who are active there and it has paid off during this COVID time,” Mitchell added.

His goal is to provide parishioners with a high-quality experience as they participate in Mass from their homes. That includes the video, lyrics on the screen during Mass and smooth transitions from beginning to end. Masses can be viewed live at 9 a.m. on Sundays and on Tuesdays through Friday on Facebook and the website, or watched later).

“I want parishioners to know that we care to provide them a quality livestream so they can comfortably participate in the worship of the liturgy and be engaged in it, even if they’re home (and some probably in pajamas!).”

“People are wanting to be in communion with one another,” Eleanor said. “We’ve all been forced into learning the technology. It’s a great tool for evangelization.”

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