By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
KNOXVILLE — Fellowship is critically important in the life of a parish, said Laura Hollinrake, director of religious education for St. Anthony Parish. “We are the body of Christ. We all make up that body, so we need each other. Fellowship sets the foundation for deeper journeying and sharing with each other.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited Catholics’ ability to share fellowship through traditional means, so the parish has been offering game nights through Zoom as a way for parishioners to connect.
Hollinrake and parish volunteer Abby Glann, who helps the parish with its website and social media accounts, came up with the idea shortly after parishes in the Davenport Diocese temporarily closed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Without Mass, the disconnect feels huge,” said Glann. The women wanted to find ways “to keep the parish connected while we’re apart.”
The first game night took place in April. Parishioners received invitations through email, text, social media and the website. They also received reminders 15 minutes ahead of time.
During the first event, Hollinrake hosted a game of Bingo. Participants ranged from families with young children to single parishioners in their 60s and 70s. Glann, a mother of four, said seeing faces from church brightened her children’s spirits. “It made it easier to cope with not being able to see them in person.”
The second event was a game of Family Feud, hosted by Ryan Richardson, parish council president. Most recently, the parish’s Family Life Committee hosted a trivia night, with committee members taking turns asking questions. The next game night will likely be a virtual version of Scattergories.
During the game nights, hosts give participants opportunities to get to know each other better. This might be through a question, show-and-tell or asking people to wear a favorite hat. Hollinrake said that when people are physically together, they tend to gravitate toward the same people, so this has allowed people who might not normally interact to see what they have in common and form new friendships.
About 10 households have participated in each game night. Hollinrake said some of the participants are people she doesn’t usually see at in-person events. “For some, it’s because they are homebound, and technology allows them to participate in ways they couldn’t before.” In addition to game nights, the parish has hosted praying the rosary, Stations of the Cross and a May Crowning on Zoom.
Glann and Hollinrake have discussed the possibility of hosting game nights even after social distancing precautions are no longer necessary. “We’ll see where the future takes us,” Hollinrake said. “If there’s a blizzard on a Friday night, and nobody is going anywhere, maybe we’ll have a virtual Bingo night for the parish. It can be spontaneous. We don’t have to reserve a room and set up snacks. We can just throw it out there, and if they want to join, they can.”