NORWAY — “Dear Lord, we thank you for this gift of technology. Even though we are in different parts of our community, we are together, growing in faith and knowledge of each other and of you.”
The inspiring words of Fr. Ed Clifford did not come from the pulpit, but rather into an iPhone from a comfortable chair in his living room, with a fire glistening behind him and his beloved dog, Sienna, happily chewing on a bone at his feet.
Fr. Clifford is the pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Norway (St. Catherine of Sienna Church, Norway; Our Lady of Ransom Church, Mechanic Falls; St. Mary Church, Oxford) and St. Joseph Parish in Bridgton (St. Joseph Church, Bridgton; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Fryeburg).
Every Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m., he and Jodi Roma, administrative assistant for the parishes, sit down for a Facebook live-stream entitled “Cliff’s Notes,” a play on Fr. Clifford’s name that invites all, including those feeling isolated during the pandemic, inside for a fireside chat, warm conversation, and even the chance to interact.
“We were looking for ways to connect with parishioners since the early days of the pandemic when people were at home and couldn’t gather for Mass,” said Fr. Clifford, who has served as pastor of the parishes since July of 2017. “We had been live-streaming Mass on Facebook, but then Jodi’s daughter, Adelaide, said she’d help us live-stream a talk to parishioners. Our first ‘episode’ was May 19 to answer questions in anticipation of the reopening of churches for Mass in June. It went well so we decided to make it a weekly Tuesday night event.”
In the weeks and months that have followed, the chats, which typically last around an hour, have grown to not only feature parish updates and pandemic protocols, but also discussions on current events, ways to deal with isolation, and even a “Movie of the Week” segment.
“We select a video on www.formed.org for people to watch before our next gathering and then discuss it,” said Fr. Clifford. “Adelaide uses the survey function on Facebook to ask what the next film folks would like to watch is and, the following week, whether or not they liked it.”
What began with a handful of viewers has grown into a steady crowd of over 50 people watching live each Tuesday night, with over 300 viewers watching the archived live-stream during the week, including viewers from all over the state and country.
“The parishioners love that it’s casual, and they laugh along with us each week so it feels like we are all together,” said Jodi. “People tell me it makes them feel like we are all sitting together just chatting, and they love that. It’s so hard not seeing all of our parishioners each week, so this helps us feel more connected. We even get to wish people a happy birthday or tell them we miss them.”
Over the course of the year, the format has allowed for deeper discussions about the faith like the meaning of specific holy days, vocation awareness, the saints, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
“Cliff’s Notes” also give Fr. Clifford and Jodi a chance to communicate improvements and plans at the parishes to viewers who, due to different situations, have not been able to visit a physical church in nearly a year.
Thanks to the comments feature on Facebook Live, participants can write in with questions and comments during the live broadcast and after it has concluded.
“We’re able to keep in touch with more parishioners, get feedback, explain things in more detail than we might saying a few words at the end of Mass or by a notice in the bulletin,” said Fr. Clifford.
“Your parishioners are so blessed to have you both!” wrote Clare.
“Your homily was excellent on Sunday,” commented Kim.
“This is such a great service,” wrote Patricia. “Thank you.”
The show has also welcomed special guests like Maine priests to join in the fun, but there’s no question that the third “host” of the show is the one who has touched viewers the most.
“My dog Sienna is a 2.5 year old lab mix,” said Fr. Clifford. “She’s usually laying in front of us, but she’s been known to jump on us looking for attention, to play, or get a treat. A couple times she done this while I was reflecting on a serious topic or leading prayer. Since then, Deacon Jim and Clare Burns often supply me with hearty bones to keep her occupied.”
In a time of uncertainty and isolation in an area hit hard in many ways by the pandemic, “Cliff’s Notes” has provided a needed respite, a source of community, and a reminder to always trust in God.
“We begin and end with prayer,” said Fr. Clifford. “It’s been a successful way to stay connected, and I anticipate continuing live-streaming after the pandemic.”
“We always say this is one of the blessings that has come from the pandemic,” said Jodi. “In fact I ran into a parishioner at the store and as I walked away she said, ‘See you Tuesday on Cliff’s Notes!’ We absolutely love it.”
Catch the live broadcast every Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. at www.facebook.com/parishesofwesternmaine. Each edition is also archived in the “Videos” section.