On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered churches and other places of worship across the region, Father Matthew Fish was determined to keep the faith alive for his congregation. His unique ideas have allowed people – his regular parishioners as well as people new to his church – to connect and keep rituals and traditions alive during the difficult days of this public health crisis.
He joins Kojo to reflect on those efforts.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
- Father Matthew Fish Pastor, Holy Family Catholic Church in Hillcrest Heights, MD; @frmattfish
KOJO NNAMDIAnd joining me now is Father Matthew Fish. He is the pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Hillcrest Heights, in Maryland. If his name sounds familiar, that's because Father Fish has received quite a lot of attention in recent weeks for his unique approach to helping his parishioners keep the faith, even though the public health crisis has closed places of worship across our region. He set up a drive-thru confessional in the parking lot of the church. Father Matthew Fish, thank you so much for joining us.
FATHER MATTHEW FISHThanks, Kojo. Great to be on the show. I'm a big fan, and been listening to you for a long time now.
NNAMDIFor people who haven't seen pictures of your drive-thru confessional, briefly describe the setup. What does it look like, and how does it work?
FISHYeah, we've got a big parking lot on our campus out here in Hillcrest Heights. And when I was thinking of how I could find some creative solutions to still offer the sacrament to my parishioners -- thinking of the space we have outside and, you know, there's a certain freedom being outside from the confinement inside the church, where it might be difficult to offer it because of the necessity of social distancing -- looking at the space I said, if I get some cones, weigh them down, and if I figure out some kind of curtain or tarp maybe I could have a divide to preserve the anonymity for the penitent, and then tie it down with some rope and tent stakes.
FISHAnd went over it a few times in my mind, and made a couple attempts with some serious wind outside, and finally managed to find a version that stayed. Yeah, so, it was a bit of a Boy Scout project, but it worked.
NNAMDIYou've also been streaming mass every morning, seven days a week...
NNAMDI...since early March. Why did you decide to do that, and what has the reaction been from your congregation?
FISHWell, part of it was as the, you know, shutdown happened, and knowing that I wouldn't be able to be with my parishioners personally, physically, I knew I had to find some kind of way to still offer the ministry of the church to them. And it being Lent, and Lent is a time when Catholics often will frequent the sacraments and go to daily mass, I wanted to still offer that opportunity for Catholics, for my parishioners to enter in deeply into Lent and to the spirit of the season to prepare for Easter. And so the best way to do that, of course, was to still offer mass in this new creative way that I wasn't used to.
NNAMDIWell, Christians around the world celebrated Easter Sunday yesterday, and the Jewish community is celebrating Passover. These holy days have been very different than they have in recent memory. What was your message to your congregation on Easter?
FISHI really preached about the importance that the resurrection of Christ is not just a kind of resuscitation, where this man who was dead now just happens to be alive. It's the beginning of this whole new vision of reality and experience that we call the new creation. And I talked about how it’s a message that's especially appropriate right now, where a lot of people are struggling with fear, anxiety, even a kind of hopelessness. Is it going to get better? You know, what are our prospects for the future?
FISHAnd I think that's the essence of the Christian message, that in the resurrection of Christ and what he comes to do, he comes to make all things new. And suffering and death and everything connected with that is not something that God ignores, or even just explains away. It's something that he comes, really, to conquer, to overcome, to transform.
FISHAnd so the message of Easter is that God has not left us, but he has entered, in the most intimate way, into our human condition, and has transformed it through his passion and death. And now we can live in this hope that all these things in our life are being transformed by the power of the spirit. And, even now, during this pandemic, that, in so many ways, we are learning to appreciate parts of our faith and the gift of the church that maybe we were taking for granted beforehand.
NNAMDITell us a little bit about what the response has been to the drive-thru confessionals from the people who have taken advantage of it.
FISHI think people have been real appreciative. It's often the last thing that the penitent will say, as they're driving away. Thank you, Father, for offering this. It means so much. I think, especially for Catholics, the sacraments are so central to our faith, that it's not enough just to know in our minds that God forgives us. We need to have this bodily, almost physical encounter with Christ, and so much a part of the incarnation.
FISHSo, to be able to go to confession and to hear that real voice, not just something virtually, to know that someone is there and to even see them listening to you, it's meant to remind us that it's really Christ who's present, who forgives our sins. So, I think the reality of that physical presence, even with the difficulty of offering it in these times, has been a real gift to people that has reassured them of the presence of God, that he has not forgotten them.
FISHSo, people have been really grateful. And I've had a lot of people come, from both parishioners and outside the area. So, as a priest it's great, right, when you can offer something and people come like this and there's a real positive reaction.
NNAMDINow that Lent is over will you be continuing to offer drive-thru confessions?
FISHI will, and going to still offer it. You know, the sacraments are a part of our experience of our faith all year round. And, you know, I'm trying to think of some new, creative ways in addition to mass and confession. I've just started to get familiar with Zoom. I'm sure, you know, a lot of listeners know about it better than I do, but I was thinking of -- I've seen some churches have done this, where you open a Zoom line, and you get as many of the parishioners as possible to come in on the call, just so everyone can see each other's faces again. That incarnational aspect is so important. So, that and trying to continue to think of new solutions, right ways to minister to my people.
NNAMDII hear you. Well, Father Matthew Fish, I am not Catholic. I am Episcopalian.
FISHWell, Happy Easter.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much, but you need to know, and this is just between us, I have not been a perfect person. So, I'm looking -- oh, I'm sorry, we're out of time. Father Matthew Fish is the pastor of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Hillcrest Heights in Maryland. Father Fish, thank you so much for joining us.
FISHYou're welcome. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIOur Kojo for Kids conversation with D.C. Teacher of the Year Justin Lopez-Cardoze was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our segment on the challenges facing essential workers was produced by Kurt Gardinier. Coming up tomorrow, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, how are local activists adapting? Plus, local urban gardening experts hear the best ways for those stuck at home to grow their own produce. That might be you. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Thought you'd be hearing a confession from me today? Oh, no. Thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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