Parishes unite to reach new audience
It’s 3 a.m., and someone surfing the web lands on the Facebook page of Visitation of Our Lady Parish in Marrero, where a video has just been posted about a Cajun Fest.
The video was posted by Phillip Cork, the social media communications coordinator who splits his time between Visitation, St. Philip Neri in Metairie and Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville.
“It is a way for them to receive the Gospel in a non-threatening way and to be able to access it whenever they can,” Father Daniel Green, current parochial vicar at Visitation, said about social media. “There are people looking at our Facebook page or the website in the middle of the night and they see a story about the pope’s new encyclical on the family and love or see a homily or this video about a fish fry or even our Cajun Fest, and think, ‘I didn’t know Catholics had so much fun.’”
Following Pope Francis’ lead to evangelize, parishes are using their limited resources in inventive ways – like sharing a social media person – to reach active Catholics and those not currently practicing a faith.
This initiative among Visitation, St. Philip and Our Lady of the Lake began in 2015, but the idea to expand social media was something Father Mike Kettenring, pastor, asked Father Green to do after he arrived at Visitation in 2013.
“It was one of the things he wanted me to work out,” Father Green said.
When he looked at Visitation’s existing website, he quickly realized it was “a major undertaking” that needed a total overhaul. Father Green first converted it to an e-Catholic platform.
Knowing Father Green’s limited free time as parochial vicar would prohibit him from building a strong web following, Father Kettenring discussed the possibility of hiring someone to coordinate the social media project. Father Green researched the job requirements and perused well-received social media sites. A Visitation committee also discussed the project for eight months.
To make it equitable, Father Kettenring asked other priests if they were interested in updating their social media presence. Father Mark Lomax, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, and Msgr. Harry Bugler and Father Steve Bruno of St. Philip Neri joined forces.
Salary divided equally
“That’s been one of the best things about sharing – we were able to offer a more competitive salary and benefits package than Father Mike would have been comfortable offering on our own,” Father Green said.
Each parish contributes approximately $13,000 a year for salary, benefits, equipment, subscriptions to software, tools and travel.
Six people applied for the job, and Cork, a 2014 Loyola University graduate, was hired. Cork has a degree in music industry studies and business as it applies to entertainment and has technology experience (in-studio recording, live sound, web design, video editing). He does all video work, editing, production, scheduling of updates, posting and graphic design for the three parishes.
“Phillip Cork has been a great benefit to Our Lady of the Lake Parish,” Father Mark Lomax, pastor, said. “Our social media program now reaches more people than we could have ever imagined. He is a blessing to our communications through modern social media.”
Cork combines three main pillars to his work: the parishes’ websites; social media (Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest); and filling the space (attending events, recording and editing video, doing blogs, translating homilies to social media, finding pull quotes for Twitter) on all platforms. Each platform is designed to reach people in different ways.
Cork spent his first four to six months gutting and revamping all three parish websites. “They were in bad shape,” he said. For Visitation, it was putting finishing touches on the e-Catholic platform.
He was given parameters by the pastors on such things as what authors he could quote but still consults the pastors for more liturgical posts.
“We’re trying to approach this in a holistic way so we can use content effectively and reach as many people as we can,” Cork said. “We want to be timely and relevant but also cautious on handling current events in a certain way.”
Father Green gave the example of the recent theater shooting in Lafayette. Cork wanted to post immediately and created a graphic that included the “Peace Prayer” attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
“One of his gifts is he is very creative about pushing us beyond the usual uses of social media,” Father Green said. During Lent, Cork took video of the Stations of the Cross from three different perspectives at Visitation: Father Daniel reading the reflections in the prayer garden, the school’s Stations of the Cross, and Stations held during Lenten fish fries.
“He was releasing three at a time, and the people just loved it,” Father Green said. “Some people can’t get here on Fridays. That was not something I would have ever thought about, and it resonated with people.”
“It’s another avenue to keep parishioners informed if they miss Mass,” Cork said. “It’s a natural way for them to stay informed, and it also allows the parishes to evangelize.”
Video posts that have been well received included the “Mass for First Responders” and a Christmas concert at Visitation.
“With video, it is not an immediate turnaround, so it has to be something that has interest on the back end like the Cajun Fest, where everyone wants to relive it,” Cork said about deciding what to post.
While some topics such as the pope’s encyclicals translate to all parishes, parish-specific content such as priest blogs are done individually for parishes.
Father Green said while the heart of the church’s mission is the liturgy, social media is following Jesus’ directive – “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
“In my opinion, it’s not something ancillary to what we are doing in creating disciples,” Father Green said. “It is another way for us to do it.”
Father Green hopes other pastors know that it is a special charism to communicate effectively in this way. It’s not like broadcast journalism, homiletics or liturgical ministry. It is a unique ministry in the church.
“This type of approach, this collaborative approach, is the way we are going to be able to do it,” Father Green said. “For a parish like Visitation, do I think the job should be full time? Yes. But a parish like Blessed Trinity (where he is going in July), I think we could share.”
St. Philip Neri has realized new followers since using Cork.
“We had a static and lame website that had contained basic information,” said Father Steve Bruno, parochial vicar at St. Philip (to become pastor of St. Rita in Harahan July 1). “Cork made an impact right from the beginning working with the ‘IT’ guy to revamp the website and create fresh logo we now use in youth ministry. It opened up to where we have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. … It was a good idea for three parishes to share his services. We have to do it. It’s where everybody is communicating.”
Cork recently gave a presentation to parish employees at an archdiocesan social media day.
"We’re changing a culture, slowly, but surely,” Father Green said.