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Drive-Up Confessions: Practicing Faith During Coronavirus

Photo of the church building
Grace Osusky
At St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on the Juan Diego school campus in Draper, Father Stephen Tilley has been conducting "drive-up confessions."

Holy Week is one of the most important times in the Catholic faith, with three out of four members in the U.S. attending mass on Easter Sunday. Easter is also a common time for the faithful to receive the sacraments of Confession, First Communion and Confirmation.

But because of the outbreak of COVID-19, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake has joined with other dioceses around the world to cancel in-person services. In Utah, that rule is tentatively in effect through May 1, which means parishioners will not be gathering to celebrate Easter Sunday.

That has some priests looking for creative ways to serve their congregation. Father Stephen Tilley of St. John the Baptist on the Juan Diego school campus in Draper has been conducting “drive-up confessions.” He parks his forest green jeep in the school’s pick up and drop off zone and marks a six-foot distance with orange cones to maintain social distancing. Then from his jeep, he waits for people to drive up. Father Tilley said so far, there have been quite a few. 

“The first time I did it, it was just for confessions. And now it's for confessions, if someone needs something blessed or if someone just needs someone to talk to. There's a lot of pain right now. People are very isolated,” he said. 

In addition to the drive-up confessions every other day, Father Tilley is one of several priests across Utah streaming Holy Week masses. He said his set-up is simple: He uses his phone and a microphone to stream live on YouTube.

Jean Hill, the director of the Salt Lake Diocese Office of Life, Justice and Peace, said people aren’t physically present for mass, but there is value in the online service.

“Even if you're not physically present, watching that live stream is considered a spiritual communion. So though you can't take the host and the wine, the value that we get from communion occurs through that spiritual communion,” Hill said.

The Salt Lake Diocese has a list of parishes that are live streaming masses during Holy Week. Those include Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine and a bilingual mass via Facebook Live from San Pablo Mission in Iron County’s Beryl Junction. 

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