by Moira Cullings
OLATHE — It’s not often someone has the chance to join Father Francis Hund, Father Kenn Clem and Father Jerry Volz for dinner.
The priests from Prince of Peace Church in Olathe typically have differing schedules and getting them together at the same time to share a meal is nearly impossible.
But on the evening of April 25, more than 120 people sat down with the trio for dinner at the priests’ rectory.
Well, not exactly at the rectory — but close to it.
“In this time of quarantine and everyone being so separated from the beautiful community here at church, we wanted to be with our people and have dinner together,” said Father Clem.
“Not being able to do that at a restaurant, we decided that doing it over the internet would be a fun way to get together as a community,” he added.
It turns out, the coronavirus pandemic has opened the door for opportunities many never thought possible.
The priests, with help from parish staff members Jean Killeen and Larissa Smith, hosted a virtual dinner and trivia night on Facebook Live.
The priests welcomed viewers into their rectory and showed them their dining table, which was adorned with appetizers, candles and wine.
“This is a normal dinner at the rectory at Prince of Peace,” joked Father Volz.
Father Clem prepared the appetizers: bruschetta and caprese. And the priests also enjoyed pasta and tiramisu — an Italian feast to celebrate the feast of St. Mark.
As they ate, they joked with each other and answered questions and comments they received from Facebook viewers, who watched from the head of the table.
“I didn’t know what to expect and how things would go,” said Father Volz. “It was really nice to hear all the comments because there were a lot of them during the dinner.”
Father Clem agreed.
“It was joyful knowing as we’re eating dinner and talking together, hundreds of our parishioners are there with us,” he said. “It was a feeling of having dinner with friends.”
For Father Hund, the evening was a way to “celebrate the gift of community” and to reach parishioners in a hope-filled way.
“Even in these days of pandemic, we are Easter season witnesses that Christ is the vine and we are the branches,” he said. “Together, we are the living body of Christ.”
That message often comes across these days through livestream Masses and prayer services, but the dinner and trivia livestream was a chance for the priests to connect with parishioners in a lighthearted way.
By all accounts it was a success. It has received more than 2,400 views, and more than 400 comments have been posted since its conclusion.
The priests were surprised by some of the viewers that tuned in, including Father Volz’s sister from Texas and Father Clem’s parents and grandmother.
But being with their parish community was particularly special.
“It did my heart good to be in contact with the people at the parish again,” said Father Volz. “I think everybody else appreciated it, too.”
Beyond offering greetings, viewers shared favorite memories with the priests and words of gratitude for the evening of virtual fellowship.
One viewer even commented that the event was “the most entertaining hour of the whole pandemic!”
A highlight of the evening was surely the game of trivia, in which the priests took on their parishioners/viewers on the game-based platform Kahoot following dinner.
Trivia topics ranged from the Catholic Church to pop culture.
“I kept saying it wasn’t about winning or losing,” said Father Volz. “But I kept reminding people that we were still ahead the whole time.”
The trio ultimately won the game but, to be fair, many participants ran into technical difficulties that hindered their performance.
Father Clem, who was ordained just last year, never expected to adapt to these new ways of ministering to parishioners in such a short period of time.
“My Easter homily was my first as a priest,” he said. “I never imagined it would be in an empty church.”
Coming up with virtual solutions to social distancing has been helpful for the young priest.
“We need this interaction together for our own psychological, mental and emotional well-being,” he said.
A sense of community is key not only to provide much-needed human interaction, but also for the growth of the Catholic Church, said Father Volz.
“Jesus was very much with the people in their day-to-day living,” he said. “We as a church need to do that, too.”
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