CLEMSON – The “wireless age” is helping a Clemson parish reach Catholics it might otherwise miss.
Since September, St. Andrew has used a closed circuit feed from the sanctuary to as many as 100 participants gathered for Sunday morning Mass in the social hall downstairs.
Father Bernard Campbell, pastor of St. Andrew, said the decision to go to the electronic Mass has eased safety concerns at the growing parish.
“People were literally standing outside the door, wanting to get in,” said Father Campbell, a Paulist father. “We were turning people away.”
The 25-year-old sanctuary was built to hold around 300, but the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass typically draws half again as many.
Without a larger space available to hold the Sunday morning Mass, Father Campbell said he took a suggestion from a parishioner to set up the parish’s wide-screen monitor in the basement social hall.
“It’s the best that we can do,” Campbell said. “We had to do it for the numbers of people who were coming to Mass.”
The television is flanked by simple white cloth banners, with a candle, Bible and crucifix. Parishioners sit on folding metal chairs, with hymnals provided.
Upstairs, a parishioner operates a small camera from a tripod set up at a church pew near the front of the congregation. The video and audio signal is transmitted to a receiver set up near the monitor downstairs.
Participants proceed upstairs to the sanctuary to receive the Eucharist with the rest of the congregation, Campbell said.
The camera operator can take in nearly every element of the Mass, Campbell said.
“The camera can pan from the lector’s podium over to the church organist and cantor,” he said.
Safety and accessibility issues are central to an effort to move out of the current 2-acre campus and into something bigger.
The current site includes a small chapel, a larger sanctuary and social hall, and a converted circa 1940s private residence that now serves as the office for campus ministry.
The parish office sits across the street from the main church campus, while the rectory is in another converted private residence a few blocks from the church.
“You make do with what you have, but (the campus ministry) is not even serviceable,” Father Campbell said. “It was built as a home and not for the numbers that we have.”
Parking has also been a problem for years at St. Andrew. The church sits in one of Clemson’s older residential neighborhoods and within walking distance of large Baptist and Presbyterian churches and a smaller Lutheran church.
“And we all have services at the same time,” Campbell said.
A recent survey of parishioners indicates that the lack of parking has turned away potential celebrants.
One of the questions asked if the survey respondent had ever personally been unable to attend Mass either because there wasn’t a place to sit or park.
“The response was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent,” Father Campbell said. Another 30 percent responded “yes” when asked if they knew of anyone who skipped Mass because of those conditions.
“That is a striking percentage,” Campbell said.
On the surface, the simple solution would be to schedule more Masses. But that’s easier said than done for Campbell and the two other Paulist priests currently on staff.
The Paulist Fathers are responsible for three parishes in Pickens and Oconee counties – St. Andrew, St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca and St. Francis in Walhalla. Between the three parishes, nine Masses are celebrated each weekend, including two Spanish Masses at St. Francis.
CCD is another concern. The program has outgrown its space in the current social hall to the point that last year Sunday sessions were moved to a public elementary school across town.
Campbell said the parish is considering three tracts of land in the area for a new church.
“We’re going to try to make a decision about where we want to go by the end of January.”