ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Every Saturday evening at 5 p.m., Karen Wright dons her noise-canceling black headphones and operates recording equipment in a corner of the sacristy of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky.
Wright, a member of the parish, directs St. James’ television ministry, which in October will celebrate its 20th anniversary of serving those who are sick and homebound in Hardin and Meade counties.
“I’ve always enjoyed computers and electronics,” said Wright during a recent interview at the parish. “Knowing it was reaching the homebound opened my heart and made me want to get more involved.”
The Mass is broadcast every Sunday at 1 p.m. on Comcast channel two and on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. on Brandenburg Telecom channel one.
Lois Shinkle, a parishioner and Eucharistic minister at St. James, said she’s seen firsthand how important the ministry is to those who are sick or homebound. She has been taking communion to them for more than four decades, she said.
“I know how important it is to them, especially people with dementia. This is their connection to their faith,” said Shinkle.
She noted it’s always special to homebound individuals when she’s able to administer the Eucharist during Communion on the televised Mass.
On a more personal level, Shinkle said she’s grateful for the ministry. Her husband is in the early stages of dementia and his short-term memory is failing, she said. While the couple can still attend Mass, Shinkle said she finds consolation knowing this ministry will be there for her husband when attending Mass is no longer possible.
“To have him connect with the (televised) Mass, I know it’ll bring him full circle back to what he knew. It may be the only thing he remembers.”
Father Michael Wimsatt, who serves as St. James’ pastor, said he’s proud of the ministry and has every intention of continuing it.
The parish purchased new equipment a few weeks ago and has begun digital recordings.
“It says a lot about the parish,” he noted. “It’s skilled labor and it’s parishioners who are carrying this labor out and keeping the ministry alive.”
Wright is one of many volunteers who have made it possible to transmit Sunday liturgy.
Parishioner John Zink and his family recently retired from volunteering with the ministry. The family had served the ministry from its start in 2002.
It started with money bequeathed by two parishioners for a television ministry, said Father Wimsatt.
There was a “lot of foresight” in starting it and it became an “essential ministry to reach a lot of people during the pandemic,” he said.
Father Wimsatt, formerly pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption, said the cathedral installed recording equipment the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“I’d seen the value of how people were staying connected when they couldn’t be there. I came here with an appreciation for the reach,” he said.
Father Richard Sullivan, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, is credited with starting the ministry while he served as pastor of St. James.
“I saw the value of it from the Mass of the Air that Father Nick Rice started,” said Father Sullivan in a recent interview. “I had a special love for that type of ministry.”
Father Sullivan was previously a teacher at the old St. Pius X School and taught a television class before becoming pastor at St. James, he said.
“It was a good ministry that I was glad the church supported. It’s great that they’ve kept it up.” Father Sullivan noted that he’s glad to see more Catholic programming on the air.
“It gives people a sense of pride in their expression of faith,” he said.
St. James parishioners were particularly pleased to see their parish’s liturgy transmitted on TV, he said.
“Even though there was a ministry there through Mass of the Air, people really like to see the people they know and are familiar with,” he said.
He heard over the years, he added, that parishioners were pleased to be able to tune into a Mass and see their pastor and congregation.