Betty Ann Bittel regularly watches the livestreamed Saturday evening Mass from Christ Our Light Parish in Princeton. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, she’s been tuning in weekly and especially enjoys Father Kevin Anderson’s homilies.
But, until recently, Betty Ann had never met Father Kevin or anyone else from this parish she calls her second spiritual home. Betty Ann lives in New Jersey and is a member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Hammonton.
After two years of watching online, Betty Ann decided she wanted to travel to Minnesota to meet the staff and parishioners at Christ Our Light. She spent March 30-April 3 attending Mass there in person and experiencing other parish activities. The trip was a Christmas present from her husband.
“I just wanted to experience it in person,” she said. “Obviously the online stuff is all wonderful and enjoyable, but nothing is a substitute for being part of a parish community worshiping in person. So, I wanted to experience this in person.”
Finding a home
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when her church closed temporarily, Betty Ann turned to YouTube to find a livestream to keep her connected to her faith. She enjoyed exploring Masses from all over the world.
“I watched Mass coming from Sydney, Australia, from Scotland, from various states around the country until I found Christ Our Light, and then I stopped looking,” Betty Ann said. “I liked it so much I just kept coming back to their livestream.”
When she first found Christ Our Light, she thought it was the one in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which is in her home diocese.
“It came up as one of many suggestions in my YouTube feed and I clicked on it,” she said. “And originally, it’s funny, there’s a Christ Our Light parish in my diocese. And I thought that’s what I was watching.”
She said she was drawn to the Mass at Christ our Light.
“Mass here is very positive and joyful all the time, and that’s a mood booster for me,” she said. “I really enjoy that aspect of it. The music here is very uplifting, and it’s also very different from the music in my parish. … It’s a whole different flavor to it.”
She looks forward to Father Kevin’s homilies.
“I always find them very interesting, very thought-provoking and inspiring,” she said. “And I never quite know what he’s going to do or how he’s going to do it. Sometimes he just talks, the sort of normal preaching, and other times there’s a more theatrical presentation, which is always interesting. And my favorite thing is when he picks up his guitar and starts singing in the middle of a homily, because I’ve never, ever seen that anywhere until I saw him doing it, but I love it.”
Betty Ann said she feels right at home at Christ Our Light.
“That’s part of the attitude that is projected from this parish, that everyone is welcome,” she said. “And it’s a lot of little things that add up to that feeling. I mean, Father Kevin always gives a welcome to the people watching online at the beginning of Mass, and the people from the staff that talk at the end of the Mass do the same thing. And it’s a little gesture, but it really means a lot to those of us who are watching on the screen.”
Father Kevin says that the welcome and introductions are important because they have people watching from all over.
“We’ll always introduce ourselves because we never want to assume that everybody knows who’s presiding or who’s talking,” he said.
Ahead on the technology
Betty Ann was impressed by the quality of the parish’s online Mass. In the beginning of the pandemic, many parishes around the country scrambled to put together a livestream for their parishioners.
“Here, it’s all done very professionally,” she said. “You’ve got multiple camera angles, and nice music, and things put on the screen at certain points before and during the Mass, which helps enhance the overall experience.”
At Christ Our Light, staff have been recording Father Kevin’s homilies and posting them on YouTube for several years. So, it was easier to start livestreaming the whole Mass.
As COVID wanes, the parish will continue to livestream because it still sees a need. There are parishioners who can’t make it to Mass because they’re homebound or ill, or they’re snowbirds, or students away at college who are seeking a taste of home even as they attend Mass in-person elsewhere.
“We always want to keep reaching out to everybody, so we’re going to continue it,” Father Kevin said.
Returning to Mass
When Betty Ann returned to Mass in person at her church, she didn’t stop watching the Christ Our Light livestream. She now “attends” two Masses every weekend, watching the livestream on Saturday evening, and on Sunday attending her own parish in person.
“It’s a great combination,” she said. “It’s really interesting because I hear two different homilies on the same Scripture that have different takes on them. It’s been very rewarding.”
She says the two complement each other.
“Apple pie. Wonderful. It’s delicious all by itself,” she explained. “So, my parish is my apple pie. Add a scoop of ice cream to it, and it’s a whole different thing. The ice cream melts and it seeps down into the apple pie, and it enhances the flavor of the pie. So, I’m getting things from watching Christ Our Light’s Mass that enhance what I’m experiencing when I’m in my own parish.”
One of Father Kevin’s homilies, during sign-up weekend, particularly hit home for Betty Ann.
“I listened to that, and it got through to me that maybe I wasn’t participating enough in my own parish,” she said. “And it inspired me to go and sign up for a couple of new things that I’d never done before in my parish. I joined the handbell choir, and I started giving wreath-making classes in our community center. Those are things I’d never done before, and I probably would’ve never done them except that I listened to that homily and it got through to me.”
Betty Ann plans to continue watching the livestream from Christ Our Light while also attending Mass at her parish in Hammonton.
“I guess I’ve found that watching the Mass here, for me, it’s a happy experience. It’s a spiritually satisfying experience, and it’s just something that I enjoy and I want to do.”