VG area clergy share word about the COVID-19 pandemic

Father Aloy Ndeanaefo-Sacred Heart Catholic Church

Duane Piercy-Pastor of Camargo’s Victory Church

By Tony Hooker
With this past Sunday being Easter, the culmination of Christianity’s Holy week, and with shelter in place being enforced, I thought it would be a good idea to check in with local pastors to see how they’re adjusting to this unprecedented time.

Mike Zylstra is the pastor of the Villa Grove Christian Church. 
How long have you been a pastor?

I began ministering in October of 1983, so 36.5 years

Has anything in your experience been comparable to this? 

No, not really. 9/11 was a similar feel as everyone was confused and baffled, and some thought we were going to see WWIII. Churches quickly held special services for the dead and wounded and lots of people came to church that first Sunday after the event. Patriotism and rallying behind our military were huge. The difference was that, outside of an all-out war, people didn’t think the terrorists were going to attack every corner of the USA. And, the country didn’t close down. Most of life remained pretty normal.

Has this experience changed your faith in any way?

Again, not really. I have always held a strong faith that God is in charge even when everything else is falling apart around us.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to your ministry with Holy week, culminating in Easter Sunday? 

The biggest challenge is the “apartness” that is required. We can do lots of things using technology, but God created His church, us, to be an interdependent unit, a body of believers. He wants us to rely on each other, encourage each other and support one another. I know that calls, cards, texts and emails can help. But there is just something about physical touch that makes our support more real. It is kind of like Jesus who had the power to heal with just a word, and he did. More often than not though, he put his hands on people and touched them when they needed healing. This Easter we can have an online church and we can sing songs and take communion. We can go through the service and approximate our usual church service. However, until that time when we can physically be together and hug on one another, it will just seem like an unnatural facsimile of being the family of God.

Is there anything that you would like to add? 

We just want people to know that closing our building doesn’t mean we have lost faith in God. We buy insurance and yet trust God to care for us. We are still helping people who are food insecure. Our office phone is manned so I can visit with people struggling with depression, anxiety and worry. Our building may be closed but our ministry will never close.

Father Aloy Ndeanaefo-Sacred Heart Catholic Church
How long have you been a pastor?

May 28 of this year will be the fifteeth anniversary of my priestly ordination at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield by Archbishop Lucas. I was assigned to SS Peter & Paul parish in Collinsville as Parochial Vicar for 3 years (2005 to 2008) and to St. Paul’s parish in Highland, Illinois as Parochial Vicar for 2 years (2008 to 2010). From July 2010 to June 2016, I was the Administrator and Pastor of two Catholic parishes, St. Elizabeth in Robinson Illinois and Our Lady of Lourdes in Oblong, Illinois. Presently, I serve the parishes of Sacred Heart, in Villa Grove, IL and St. Michael’s in Hume, IL together with working as a PRN Chaplain at Carle Hospital in Urbana, Illinois. So, I have been in the priesthood for almost 15 years. 

Has anything in your experience been comparable to this?

Not at all. This era in our church and human history seems like a fictional movie, unprecedented, unimaginable and full of suspense. Every day, amidst the negatives presented in the media, I look for positive stories of hope, what I call God’s moments. You would be surprised by the wonderful things that people are doing to encourage one another during this time of great need. It is awe inspiring for humanity. It is what God’s single message is all about, “to love one another…” 

Has this experience changed your faith in any way?

It has actually given more meaning to my faith, bringing from my subconsciousness to consciousness the importance of the people of God (congregation) in the church. Without the people of God (congregation), it would be difficult to have the church as we know it. There is no gainsaying the fact that the people of God (congregation) play a vital and preponderant role in the church. We are blessed in our church family to have parishioners who despite all odds, continue in their stewardship of time, talent and treasure in supporting the church and our community. In all things, great or small, we always thank God for everything, including the miracles of technology and social media, and the freedoms we have to continue ministering the Word of God, through these venues.  Thanks to technology and social media, I still feel very connected to our parish family, past and present, to friends and family members worldwide.  

What do you see as the biggest challenge to your ministry with Holy week, culminating in Easter Sunday?

Celebrating the liturgy without the physical presence of the people of God (congregation). When you actually look for the positives or if we may, ‘God’s moment’ in this period, we can compare it to the story of Holy Week. During Holy Week, we celebrate the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, that is to say his suffering, death and ultimate resurrection. Currently, it seems like our country and other countries of the world are going through the ‘Good Fridays’ of our lives with all the suffering and death. As Christians and believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we know that Good Friday of the Lord’s passion is not our only story. There is still one more chapter to be written. That is the chapter of the resurrection. Just as Jesus Christ endured suffering and conquered death, God’s Grace is sufficient for us to endure these ‘Good Fridays’ our lives so as to rise again with Christ on that resurrection day. 

Is there anything that you would like to add?

Just to say, ‘Happy Easter’ and God’s blessings on everyone in our church family, our country and around the world. Every member of our parish staff has been superlative in their job during this time of great need. Our secretary Amy Walch had the foresight of setting up online giving on our church website a few years ago and our parishioners have been generous despite all odds. Thank you to Mike Holmes, Caroline Smith, Mike Stauder and my brother Ken Ndeanaefo, for making it possible for us to live stream our weekend Masses via Facebook and our church website.

My unalloyed and immeasurable gratitude extends to all health care and essential workers in our country and around the world. As a priest and chaplain, I pray for their protection, good health and God’s abundant grace on them. As Christians, it’s imperative that we see in our current suffering, a participation or if you may, a sharing in the redemptive sufferings of Jesus Christ so as to rise again with Christ on that resurrection morning. Let us keep on keeping on placing all our hope in God, being positive, helping one another, heed the call to stay home, observe social distancing, sanitize our hands, cover our coughs, wear masks, and listen to our civil authorities. 

This COVID-19 moment shall surely pass. The Gospel is replete with stories, testimonies and messages for hope, love and faith in calming the storms and overcoming evil.  Importantly, this pandemic is by no means the end of the world. I believe God’s hand will bring healing, refresh and restore our world in no distant future. We see it in the goodness of people everywhere helping to fight and overcome COVID-19.  During his ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing, Pope Francis, said that ‘pandemic is not a judgement from God, but a time for us to judge, to choose what matters…. It is a time to get our lives back on track”.

Duane Piercy-Pastor of Camargo’s Victory Church
How long have you been a pastor? 

Since February 1998 (22 years)

Has anything in your experience been comparable to this?

I have been with families during their worst situations ever… loss of a loved one, frightening health reports, people struggling with fear over loss of income, or relationships. But I have never dealt with a situation that affected so many people who are going through something collectively.

Has this experience changed your faith in any way?

I think something like this can be a “spiritual reset”, which is a good thing. In all the uncertainty that is happening around us, it has prompted us to seek God with more fervency than ever. It leads us to get back in His Word and find that He alone is our answer because He is the answer.

So many things compete with the place that He should be…entertainment, work/career, friends, and even self.  Often when things are going great, we sort of put our faith on a shelf. It’s in the times of struggle that we realize more than ever how much we need Him.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to your ministry with Holy week, culminating in Easter Sunday?

I think the biggest challenge is staying connected with the other believers. Thankfully technology has given us a platform to do so.

In a matter of a week, most churches who have never streamed their services are quickly learning how to do it to provide hope to their church families. We may all feel inadequate in our technological skill to do so, but God can use what little we have and our inadequacies and make it a sweet fragrance for Him.

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