MARCH 5, 2021: One weekend in October 2019 at the end of weekend masses in the Holy Family Church in Kajang, a video on Rumah Keluarga Kami, a home project run by St Vincent de Paul, was shown. It was during the Conference of the Holy Family Kajang on the occasion of the St Vincent de Paul feast day. At one of the masses, a parishioner with vast experience in psychology, moved by the work of charity in that video presentation, responded to the call to serve. She was just what they needed, someone with the expertise in handling vulnerable children.
In 2019, when the parish needed funds to upgrade facilities, the church came together and there was a publicity campaign to give the fundraising a boost and the target was met way before the deadline. Last Christmas, parishioners and others, unable to attend masses as churches were still closed, were gushing over a video where 60 of their fellow parishioners sang in the online choir.
Behind the scenes are the parish’s well-oiled Social Communications Ministry and the 35 people who are in it. In the five years that the ministry has been around, they have put in place a process flow that can take a plain text parish announcement and turn it into captivating graphics or quick and easy to understand videos or a mini-documentary that can make a stone heart cry. They then circulate the content to parishioners through social media platforms.
The whole flow, from conception, to brainstorming, production and circulation can take anything between a couple of hours and one week. One of the team members Fabian Lee said that they worked like a corporation. But the one difference is that this “corporation” starts each project they do with a prayer dedicating the work of their hands to God.
The content they produce is not confined to the needs of the parish and its ministries. They also show the lives of people like a 90-year-old parishioner who had served as their sacristan for 30 years and the testimony of a mother who became a Catholic after her daughter passed away.
The team also provide guides for believers to continue practising their faith and the rituals despite being behind closed doors, like the liturgical calendar and rituals during Lent and Advent, e-posters on how to follow online masses and registering a child for catechism, and many more. They offer Church teachings and practices in bite-size to make it easy in a world where time and attention is a commodity both created by themselves or shared from other resources.
This is probably why they have almost 7,000 followers on Facebook, 1622 followers on Instagram and 440 subscribers on their newly-launched Telegram channel. The Holy Family Church parishioners come up to about 7,000.
“More than half of our Facebook followers are from our parish,” said Jacinta Albert. She recently took over as head of the ministry from Reuben Chen after his two-year term ended. She added that those who accessed their social media channels from the Kajang vicinity were likely to be their parishioners and that number came to more than 3,000. This means they have an equal number of non-parishioners following them – those from other parishes or other countries.
It also means they have a high media penetration rate in their parish because more than 3,000 parishioners are following them and not all the 7,000-odd parishioners are English-speaking. Their media content is mainly in English.
But it’s not the numbers that keep them going. It’s the passion for Christ. Journey With Us – Asia recently spoke to several members of the team via video streaming.
How the ministry started – 2016
The Social Communications Ministry was set up in 2016 by then parish priest Fr Surain Durai Raj with six people selected by him to start the ministry and most of them were from media-related industries like advertising, photography and videography. Their main function was to publicise parish events and programmes to parishioners.
“Our presence was not strong at that time,” said Melissa James who was then heading the ministry. Only when there was an event would the team spring into action, said the 30-year-old graphic designer. There was also another issue. “It was tough to manage my personal life and church life.”
This did not stop her. In fact, she was able to identify areas that needed to be worked on and continued to contribute when Reuben Chen took over the leadership. She said: “We needed more members, and those with the right talent. There was more that we could do. And we wanted to try something new.” This desire to expand was what fuelled their growth.
Next phase – 2018
When Chen took over, Fr Surain showed him another area the Social Communications Ministry needed to address – the disconnect of information between ministries, the language apostolates and parishioners. “Events organised were not communicated sufficiently to them. We had our new logo and along with it the mission and vision, but these were not cascaded down to the ministries and parishioners well enough.” Why this was so was because only few saw the importance of this ministry. “Social comms was not a thing back then, people were still unsure of this ministry’s role in the parish,” said the 34-year-old who lectures in hotel and tourism.
The relevance of the ministry began to grow after the Parish Pastoral Assembly in late 2018. They then saw the extent to which they can grow and so the team set aside four months to restructure and recruit. They advertised vacancies and tried to rope in friends and the numbers grew to 35. They have people in their teens right up to the 50s, and from various industries. This does not bother Chen at all. “In fact, it is good. We learn to challenge one another, and we get better content this way.”
Then team members started specialising: content creation; design; media – uploading; website; and translation – for the language apostolates. At the same time, they started planning ahead and sometimes working as far as three months ahead.
“We brought in language reps. Not necessarily those serving in the language apostolate committees,” said Chen. These representatives were people who attended the Mandarin, Tamil and Bahasa Malaysia masses but were keen to be the bridge to link the ministry to their respective apostolates.
Another area was content penetration. Not every parishioner knew how to access the content. Content team member Adel Jayasuria, said that they set up booths after masses and went up to all the parishioners as they were leaving to show them how to download apps, register and get access to their content.
Chen said: “We learnt to adapt and be creative.” Which is why they have a non-restrictive comment policy that gives them valuable feedback and allows free speech. “Provided their comments are aligned with the Church’s teachings,” said Jayasuria, aged 44 who works with a financial sector regulator.
By this time, their main function had gone beyond publicising the parish diary. It is now driven by the need to evangelise and inspire faith on a platform which sees beyond parish and geographical boundaries, added Jayasuria.
Once masses and gatherings in churches were suspended, parishes and ministries all over the country needed funds. The Social Communications team in Holy Family Church went into action and started to publicise the needs of the parish and its Parish Integral Human Development ministry.
“Funds came in, purely online. This was a new learning for everyone – for the different ministry leaders and for us,” said Jacinta Albert. They then saw the potential of their ministry. “The parishioners and the priests were very appreciative.”
Albert said there would always be continuity. “The ministry continues to evolve,” said the 41-year-old PR practitioner who joined the ministry in 2019.
The Covid lockdown has altered their plans. Content production will continue but there will be a move to have more engagement with parishioners. “We want be a platform for engagement and to share multilingual content to better represent our parish,” she said. This will mean a closer working relationship with parish ministries and language apostolates to help them connect with parishioners.
At the same time, the team is also sharing its expertise and learnings, and collaborating with the social communication ministries in other parishes and also the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese. So far they have worked with Visitation Church in Seremban, Divine Mercy Church in Shah Alam and Sacred Heart Church in Kuala Lumpur.
They also have on-going skills development, to take care of their own internal needs. Members mentor each other and there’s imparting of skills. Members feedback is also an important component where a lot of problem-solving is done and holes in the system are plugged. They recently had an online retreat conducted by Fr Clarence Devadass from the KL Archdiocese.
The one message that comes out strong from the Holy Family Church’s Social Communication Ministry is that no one works alone and no one takes the glory. There is much collaboration with the parish and its ministries, collaboration with those in the larger Catholic community, and there is much support and mentoring within the team. That itself is a testimony to our Lord Jesus.
Here are what some of the team members say
Pravindrran Joel (design team)
Joined the ministry in 2016 as one of the first six
Age 26, employed as a graphic designer
It boosted my confidence because I find it hard to speak in front of people. I’m from the Tamil apostolate. And the workload was not easy. But I slowly started talking (to others in the team). They taught me how to balance my work and the work in the ministry. We had BBQs, fun times. It is not like school, strict discipline. More like a family. When we check facts or google for more info, we learn more about the content we’re going to post. We get to understand the content and so we know why we are posting it.
Jonathan Phun (media team – analyst)
Joined the ministry in 2018
Age 38, from the banking industry
I’m delighted to be part of the ministry. I personally like data, so I look at the type of content that would bring the numbers. Being in this ministry is truly a gift God has given to us.
Freddie Wee (design team – videographer)
Joined the ministry in 2019
35, from the HR industry
I found out what content creation was all about here. I focus on music and movies as my area of specialisation. I do videos. Like the Christmas virtual choir, working with the choir ministry. It was tough but very satisfying. We got the congregation involved, by asking them to submit videos of them singing. We found out our parishioners love singing. We got more than 60 submissions.
We also did a step-by-step video on how to make an Advent wreath. We are bringing parishioners to the church although they cannot come to church.
Fabian Lee (tech support)
Joined the ministry in 2016 as one of the first six
26, pastoral worker
I was still a student when I joined the ministry. Initially I had zero knowledge, but by God’s grace I learnt a lot faith-wise and picked up a lot of things on the fly, like video editing. All this challenged me spiritually. I can now discern if something I am doing is important or if something else is more important. I learnt not to be black and white when looking at things. But to look at how other people will receive it the media content.
Christina Abigail Lazaroo (writer)
Joined the ministry in 2019
30, stay-at-home-mum cum English teacher
I hold Mother Teresa’s quote very closely to my heart, ‘not all of us can do great things, but small things with great love’. My passion is to bring and show to others the truth, good and the beauty of our Catholic faith through the content that I write and share.