(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2021 Issue 102)
By MARY STRONACH, OFS
As the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United State planned for the 2020 National Chapter, they accepted the fact that COVID pandemic would require a measure of flexibility and creativity, an understanding of the new technology… and the ability to imagine the possibilities.
Forty-seven regional ministers, spiritual assistants and guests from around the country and world embraced this historic step in building and maintaining a sense of fraternity virtually.
The event provided some special benefits for those who would have faced travel challenges – no heavy baggage to pack and carry, no expensive, long, tiring trips, no fear of COVID contagious.
On the downside, there were no early morning coffee gatherings where brothers and sisters could laugh and share, no late-night entertainment or long discussions about the future of the Church or the Order, and no Eucharist to receive and share.
However, the virtual model of Franciscan gatherings, including the National Chapter, has proven to be an uplifting, engaging, productive, welcoming way to bring the members of the Order together. With the exception of technological or serious health issues, there was no reason why a regional minister or delegate could not participate. We were all in the comfort of our homes, with a cup of coffee or tea in hand, the occasional grandchild or pet who would cross the screen. We had the best of both worlds – interactions with Fraternity brothers and sisters from around the country and a safe, non-COVID home environment. (Some had virtual backgrounds of beautiful landscapes and even outer space.)
Materials were submitted to everyone in advance, the program was planned to include opening and closing Masses – with readers, music and inspirational homilies; presenters were prepared with shared Power Points that could easily be seen by all participants; spirited and upbeat leaders who provided guidance and updates on every aspect of the Order in the United States; spiritual assistants who offered perspectives and tips on how to handle the new reality.
With this historic, virtual Annual Chapter, the National Secular Franciscan Order has taken a leap in faith into a new reality – one which can connect Secular Franciscans, next door and around the world.