Ministry Day 2020: A Day Like No Other
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
October 15, 2020
DIOCESE—The coronavirus pandemic may have claimed many casualties in the way of gatherings and events but the diocesan-wide Ministry Day was not one of them. 
In fact, according to organizer Kevin Fuss, “the 16th annual Ministry Day, held Oct. 1, was a day like no other for a number of reasons.” 
Fuss, who is the director of research and planning for the Diocese of Rockford explained that because of gathering restrictions, Ministry Day was held online for the first time.  Also a first for the event was that it was combined with Educational Leaders Day and Presbytery Day as those events were not able to be held this year.  
Registration opened up the Tuesday after Labor Day and, according to Fuss, the overwhelming registration numbers “confirmed the need to hold a virtual event.” 
Together there were 83 parishes represented with more than 300 individuals participating in the event that opened with prayer and remarks from Bishop David Malloy.
Bishop Malloy offered a prayer and reflection from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and talked a bit about the measures taken up by the Diocese of Rockford to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and the subsequent impact on the parishes, parish staffs and most importantly the Catholic faithful.
The Bishop told participants that the reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians is a reminder “of our spiritual task in the midst of challenges, and COVID is certainly one of those challenges.” Bishop Malloy went on to thank organizers and participants for using tools like Ministry Day to live up to those challenges.
The event focused on giving parishes the tools they need to adapt to the myriad of changes brought about by the pandemic.  Topics such as parishioner engagement, parish communication, and technology best practices were featured.  The day was designed to be interactive and featured music, videos, presentations, interviews and live polls.  Even though many parish teams weren’t physically able to be together at their respective parishes, organizers created  “virtual breakout rooms” where they could brainstorm, interact and plan for the future together, and then re-join the larger group to share their ideas and perspectives.
And even though the event was successfully held in the midst of a pandemic that has impacted every element of parish life, Fuss says it almost never happened.
“We were not aware of any other diocese that had attempted to gather all their parishes and schools together for a virtual workshop of this size, so there was no framework.  In fact, because of that, the planning group initially thought it might be best to cancel the event or move it to the spring or summer of next year.”  
However, Fuss said after a survey was done and parishes indicated an immediate need to better engage with parishioners, to increase communication with the parish community, and to implement technology best practices, “the planning team began thinking big and realized we needed to get the parishes together right now, not next year.”
The Diocese of Rockford partnered with a Catholic organization, Parish Catalyst, who Fuss said “shared the vision to think boldly and worked with us to take a calculated risk to hold such an event.  In early summer we began meeting with Parish Catalyst team member John Poitevent to sketch out how we could develop and deliver an ‘all diocesan’ program.” 
Fuss said “Feedback from the evaluation survey has been positive so far with attendees indicating the event “allowed our staff to know they are on track and ignited ideas for connecting with parishioners and community in innovative ways,” while others commented that the ideas and best practices shared were “an encouragement to craft a creative response to the complications resulting from the virus.”
Despite overall satisfaction with the event, several attendees shared the sentiment that although the day was productive, there is “no substitute for in-person interactions and time to network and collaborate with colleagues from other parishes”.
Planning is now taking place on the next Ministry Day which Fuss hopes is an in-person event in 2021. 
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