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28 July 2017
A Byzantine Catholic parish in Ohio is drawing on its tradition and faith to post messages on a local billboard. The billboard reads, “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
(photo: CNS/courtesy of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish)
A glance, a thought, a prayer are what St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish had
hoped to inspire in commuters when it launched its first billboard campaign in 2015.
Now the parish, situated in Barberton, Ohio, has launched its sixth billboard campaign, with the message: “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
The parish wants to communicate its prayerful presence and solidarity with community members in the midst of their daily struggles, said the pastor, Father Miron Kerul-Kmec.
A banner that measures 8 feet by 14 feet was hoisted up onto the side of the church building in mid-May, and since early July, an 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard has graced a busy intersection nearby. It will have an eight-week run.
“A billboard with a Christian message, if done correctly, has power,” said the pastor. “The church’s message on a billboard is not a product like any other.”
He gave the example of a previous campaign, which featured the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”
“If a small percentage of people who passed by were encouraged to say this short prayer, it’s great and the world became a better place for this,” he said. “It is something small that can change your thoughts and bring you to something better.”
The new billboard is the communications component of the parish’s yearlong pastoral program, which will include catechesis on the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and prayer.
“Prayers are a very powerful tool for how to change your life,” he said. “There is a need to refresh our understanding of prayer. We can use this prayer which is given to us, the Divine Liturgy. We want to remind our faithful how precious the Diving Liturgy is. We pray for the whole world there.”
The parish belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and the idea of using advertising first came up in discussions among parishioners about the eparchy-wide pastoral plan. They decided advertising would help meet one of the parish objectives of “bringing Christian thought to people,” said the pastor.
All of the billboards draw on the Byzantine Catholic tradition and practice of the faith.
Parishioners opted for billboards over other media because, unlike radio and television where one can change the channel, a billboard “is something you cannot avoid,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
“You drive this way every day to work and every day it is a reminder,” he said.
Cost was another factor. Father Kerul-Kmec said he was surprised by the relatively low costs. A four-week campaign at a location that receives 8,000 looks per week was priced at $500; the parish has contracted for eight weeks for each campaign.
The billboards were designed pro bono by parishioner Kurt Valenta, creative director for Advance Ohio, the marketing arm for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper.
“If you want to touch the community, what better way than to put a billboard in the heart of it,” said Valenta, who has worked in advertising for 33 years. He pointed to market research that indicates the efficacy of outdoor advertising.
Commuters may not pay much mind to the billboard the first few times they drive by, but eventually “the repetition makes people think,” he said. He added he would counsel parishes against online banner ads, which can be very expensive.
Father Kerul-Kmec said the response to the billboards has been “satisfying” to date.
He said a commuter called him one night at 11 p.m. to tell him that he was “deeply touched” by the Christmas billboard campaign. Father Kerul-Kmec has also received positive feedback from guests at the soup kitchen where he and parishioners serve lunch regularly. Others have said the billboards are “refreshing” and that “the road looks better now,” he added.
“If people would come to (our) church that would be great,” he said. “But the point is to bring the remembrance of God to people. If people were touched and went to their own church, it’s OK. It is not the intention to pull people to our parish, but just to send the Christian message to the world and to let people know that we are here.”
“Even if one person is touched by this, it is worth it,” he said.
Valenta said he believes participating in advertising presents “no ethical dilemma whatsoever” for the church.
“We are bombarded by messages every day... and the church needs to get the word out. You need to be proactive or you’re not a player,” he said. “We need to be there.”
28 July 2016
The Rev. Daniel Lenz leads a prayer for the newly inaugurated Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community in Omaha, Nebraska on 26 June. Father Lenz is biritual, meaning he was ordained for the Latin rite but is permitted to celebrate Byzantine liturgies as well.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community)
The Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community in Nebraska seems off to a good start with two baptisms since its official inauguration as an outreach of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma this past spring.
The new Eastern Catholic community is the result of a grass-roots effort begun about 18 months ago by Catholic layman Matthew Willkom.
Within this short time, the Omaha community went from having monthly prayer services on a weeknight to finding a biritual priest who currently celebrates Sunday Divine Liturgy with them once monthly. About 60 people are associated with the community, though about 20 people attend regularly.
The 36-year-old radio producer moved to Omaha with his wife and three children four years ago from Minneapolis, where he first encountered the Byzantine Catholic Church. Though a Latin Catholic, Willkom became a regular at the Byzantine parish there and, after living in Omaha for more than two years without a Byzantine liturgy, decided to start a Byzantine community.
“I was missing (the Byzantine liturgy) so much, I felt like something should be done,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
For a year, the community prayed on a weeknight at a Ukrainian parish on Omaha’s east side. The pastor agreed they could pray in English with Ruthenian chant. Now-retired Bishop John M. Kudrick of Parma had lent the fledgling group support in the form of liturgical books, as well as guidance from Father Bryan Eyman, the eparchy’s director of missions and outreach.
However, in January, the community found a new location — the monastery of the Poor Clare sisters on Omaha’s west side — where biritual Benedictine Father Daniel Lenz currently celebrates Divine Liturgy one Sunday per month. “Biritual” means he was ordained for the Latin rite but is permitted to celebrate Byzantine liturgies as well.
People come from all over Omaha and from the Lincoln, Nebraska, area, which is about 40 miles away, said Willkom.
Father Eyman visited the Omaha community 24 April. After celebrating Divine Liturgy for about 60 people and inaugurating the outreach, he spoke to them about the steps in becoming a canonical mission.
The most important steps are developing commitment and stability in numbers and attendance, and getting finances in order, he said.
Eventually, members hope to establish a mission on Omaha’s west side, which is currently experiencing significant demographic growth, with young families moving into the middle- to upper-class suburb from the inner city, said Willkom.
“But we’re not there yet,” he said. The “next step is incorporating locally so we can start to collect donations and provide for the liturgical needs of the community.”
He said there are currently no canonical Ruthenians residing in Omaha, but the recent news that a Byzantine Catholic couple from St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish in Munster, Indiana, intends to join the outreach once they move to Omaha this summer is encouraging, he added.
Their presence “will provide some stability and connection with the larger liturgical and spiritual life of the eparchy,” Willkom said.
The outreach also is working to establish weekly Byzantine services by the fall. Omaha’s Latin-rite Catholic archbishop gave one of his deacons permission to receive the necessary formation to lead the outreach in a Typika service — known as a Communion service in the Latin Church — on the Sundays when the priest is not available.
Willkom said the whole process has been “a journey of discovery.”
“We’re all very new to this,” he said. “The bottom line is that we’re looking for encouragement from the eparchy, and Father Bryan’s visit certainly symbolizes that.
“We’re also looking to focus on evangelization, on showing the mercy of God to each other, that same mercy we repeatedly proclaim and beg for ourselves in the Divine Liturgy,” he said.
The outreach is open to serving all Byzantines, he said. To date, they have reached out to Melkite Catholic refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq, who continue to make their way to the Omaha-Lincoln area.