Religious orders adapt ceremonies for COVID conditions

Like the rest of the world, religious orders are having to adopt new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pre-COVID, people considering entering religious orders would have many in-person meetings to discern their vocation.

That still happens, but most meetings now take place online.

So do the formal welcoming ceremonies for candidates.

While the pandemic is forcing changes, there are some advantages new technology offers to long-established rituals.

UK woman Liz Dodd’s formal welcome as a candidate for a religious order, for instance, involved an online ceremony from London.

Her housemates were with her. Family, friends and sisters from around the world joined in.

At the start of the ceremony, the congregation’s Washington-based formation director spoke of the blessing the technology offered, enabling so many to take part from across the world.

Then a sister said a prayer of blessing for Dodd. Other sisters joined by raising their hands toward their computer screens, warmly welcoming Dodd as their new candidate.

Dodd had formally stated her wish to discern joining the order the day before England went into lockdown last March.

Apart from one weekend visit, all her interaction with the sisters has been online. She joins with weekly and biweekly Zoom gatherings for discussion or prayer and has a weekly Zoom meeting for formation, which her housemates call “nun school.”

Dodd hopes to enter the novitiate this year and live with a community.

During her online ceremony, she said though her experience is different from other sisters, there is “an amazing thread” that ties them together.

The ceremony tied everything together for Dodd, because until that point the process had been very private and personal. Suddenly it was public and joined by sisters and associates from all over the world.

“I’m a convert, and neither my family nor my housemates are Catholic, so their first real encounter with this whole process was that Zoom ceremony,” she added.

Dodd says her unique discernment process makes her wonder if she is “among the first candidates in church history” to do her postulancy like this.

“It works because you’re creating an intentional space — albeit online — in response to God’s call, and God absolutely honors that, whether it’s virtual or in person,” she says.

Millennials and those even younger “get a degree of security and comfort from being behind a screen — it’s our natural environment,” which makes the initial stages in the vocation discernment process less daunting, she says.

“You have more of a sense of control and security because you’re having these wild conversations at your desk and in your home.”

Traveling to visit congregations and orders someone is interested in “could feel impossibly overwhelming, but an email and a Zoom call doesn’t. Plus, you can fit it all in with work and regular pandemic social life.”

But that’s not to say that online is always better. Dodd said it took in-person meetings to really confirm what she was discerning, so she thinks a hybrid model works best.


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