By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
SOLON — Of all the things Father Charles Fladung misses about pre-COVID-19 life, he misses his parish community the most.
“I’m supposed to be their shepherd, and I miss my flock,” said Father Fladung, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Solon. “A big part of that is meeting and greeting people.”
During the three months in which the Diocese of Davenport suspended public Masses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parish hosted several drive-through events intended to ease some of that longing for community, which parishioners also felt. “We miss everybody! Every time we see someone from church, we get pretty excited,” said parishioner Frank Klima, who drove to the church with his wife, Jean, for the parish’s Father’s Day event June 21. He received a blessing, a bottle of holy water, a missalette, palm cross and hot dog lunch from Father Fladung and a team of parish staff, volunteers and Knights of Columbus.
The Father’s Day drive-through event is the fourth such event the parish has hosted during the pandemic. On Mother’s Day, the parish offered blessings and roses for mothers who drove to the church after livestreamed Mass. In late May, high school graduates drove up to receive blessings, Bibles, flowers and cupcakes from Father Fladung and the parish team before standing, social distanced, in the parking lot to receive well-wishes from a caravan of cars. Recently, the parish’s Knights of Columbus council offered doughnuts to people who drove to the church to say hello. To protect others and himself from the virus, Father Fladung wears a mask and face shield at all events.
The diocese resumed the celebration of public Masses the Monday after Father’s Day, with restrictions, but the drive-through events during the suspension have been a huge morale-booster, said Jeri Bollwitt, the parish’s director of religious education. “It’s been hard, mentally and emotionally, for everyone,” she said. “Sometimes, just doing something as simple as handing out a flower and telling someone how much you miss them… is wonderful.”
On other Sundays during the suspension of public Masses, Father Fladung video conferenced for about 30 minutes after livestreamed Masses to connect with parishioners, but Bollwitt said some parishioners are uncomfortable using that technology, and most still prefer in-person interaction when possible.
On Father’s Day, the joy of parishioners driving up to the church was palpable. “I miss coming to Mass dearly and seeing people,” said parishioner Ron Holubar, who chatted with Father Fladung for several minutes from the driver’s seat of his car. Drive-through events helped Holubar feel connected to his pastor. “Father is a beacon in our community. We look to him for guidance, and when you don’t see him every week, it’s tough!”
Kelly Ann Light drove her husband, Tim, to the Father’s Day event. The drive-through events make them feel connected to their faith family, she said.
Father Fladung’s joy was evident throughout the event. He sang “Happy Birthday” to one parishioner, and cooed at a couple of dogs who stuck their heads out of a backseat window. “There’s a lot of joy Father gets out of seeing his parishioners —his family,” Bollwitt said. “It’s fun to watch the joy in Father.”
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