Faces fill pews of St. Patrick’s, even when nearly empty

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 04, 2020 1:07 PM CT | Published: May 03, 2020 3:53 PM CT

As Monsignor Val Handwerker prepared for Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church, he saw the parishioners’ faces.

Their pictures are taped to the pews while they gather apart for worship. Public Mass has been suspended until May 16 by a decree of Memphis Bishop David Talley. 

Many churches, including St. Patrick, are reaching their parishioners by streaming Sunday services.

“Thirty seconds,” said Lauren Ready, owner of Forever Ready Productions, LLC said behind her camera in the middle of the sanctuary.

Memphians worship apart for Sunday services

The sun shined through the stained glass and windows lighting the room while the few in church were silent.

“We’re live,” she said at 9 a.m.

A few Forever Ready staff members are present each week to stream the service from the church at Fourth and Martin Luther King Jr. Street Avenue

Although Downtown Memphis was eerily quiet Sunday, a few have gathered inside the church each week for Mass.

Handwerker noted it is “wonderful” parishioners can worship from their homes.

“It’s been a great ministry for us,” Handwerker noted Sunday after the service.

He recognizes the streaming does not transform Mass into a performance. It is still a form of worship, even with an emptier church and the presence of camera, he said.

“I make sure in my own spirituality, this is not a show,” he said. “This is worship. I let the videotaping take care of itself.”

Ready and her husband, Scott, of Forever Ready productions attend St. Patrick. When public masses were suspended by Talley’s March 16 decree, they began streaming the service.

“We were clueless (about streaming),” Handwerker acknowledged, adding he was grateful for Ready and her team’s efforts.

Before Mass began 10 people inside the church prayed God would work through the virtual means. Forever Ready had two cameras showing different aspects of the service.

Ready used a tablet to determine the view shown online.

While she operated the camera on the tripod, Brody Kuhar, creative director, had another camera with which he could easily walk around.

Kuhar ensured the camera showed the service’s details, including the piano during music and the pictures taped to empty pews.

Jenni Barr, who serves with the music ministry, mentioned the pictorial idea to Handwerker. She saw it online in a Milan church. When she mentioned it to Handwerker, he wanted to do it as well.

Waters: As pandemic advances, faith leaders embrace worship services for the digital age

The congregation sent in pictures. There are more than 260 photos of more than 400 people. Some pictures are of people alone. Others are with families.

They are strategically placed by where the parishioners usually sit in the sanctuary.

The pictures are diverse by race and age. Most live locally, but some are from Pennsylvania, Colorado and North Carolina, Handwerker noted.

“I visualize the parishioners are with me,” he said after the service.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do

Sunday, the church celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday.

The songs, Scripture readings and sermon all centered around Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

“We are all dispersed in different ways in quarantine,” he said during the service. “But in worship, we are tied together.”

Handwerker said there are as many as 320 computers tuned into the services, but the number does not account for multiple people watching on the same device.

Public services will resume May 16, but not everyone will be able to come. The vulnerable should stay at home and services will be streamed until it is safe for the church to be full again.

“We are making plans and will still stream,” Handwerker said noting seniors and those in poor health are asked to continue participating virtually.

Additionally, Talley’s decree suspends required mass through June 30.


St. Patrick Catholic Church virtual services coronavirus Bishop David P. Talley
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


Reading comments and joining the conversation are some of the many benefits of subscribing. Join the conversation by clicking the View Comments button below. Not a subscriber? Click here. 

Our commenting policy can be viewed here