The Milwaukee Catholic Charismatic Renewal held a face-to-face drive-in prayer meeting in September at the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center. (Submitted photo)
During this time of limited-capacity gatherings and social distancing, every group and parish in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has had to get creative when it comes to maintaining a sense of community and Christian fellowship.
For the Milwaukee Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), weekly phone meetings have been an invaluable way to keep living, as the group’s mission says, “a life in the Spirit” even during the pandemic.
“It’s really been an exciting time of drawing community together,” said Marianne Skrobiak, liaison for the Milwaukee CCR. “It has just uplifted us and given us hope that we’re going to see the end of this — that God is in charge, God is still hearing our prayer, and it’s going to be OK. We believe in the power of prayer and the power of corporate prayer, praying together.”
Every Monday since mid-March, dozens of CCR members using a conference call application gather virtually to pray in a Charismatic manner — that is, “expressing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, praying and singing in tongues, receiving prophetic words, Scriptures, images,” said Skrobiak. There have been up to 70 people on the call at one time.
Prior to the pandemic, CCR members met regularly for corporate prayer in locations all over the archdiocese. One of the largest groups is the River of Life Prayer Group that met on Monday nights at St. Matthias, and many of the call participants are members of that group — but not all. Because of the nature of the conference call (think an old-fashioned party line, but no gossip, just grace), anyone with the number can call, and people have invited friends from both near and far to participate. “We had someone from Portland, (and) someone from Chicago who heard about it — it’s really been exciting,” said Skrobiak.
Colleen Milnick, a parishioner at St. Matthew in Oak Creek who has been active in the CCR for almost 30 years, said the weekly phone calls “bolstered” her faith during a time when God seemed to be urging everyone to seek him more deeply.
“This was a unique time to get to know God better,” she said. “There are so many things going on right now — prayer is essential. To have that belief that God is in control, even in the middle of all of this. He knows what’s going on and knows what we’re dealing with. But to hear him, you’ve got to be quiet.”
Patti Schmeling, who usually attends the Servants of Yahweh Covenant Community that, prior to COVID, met at St. Joseph Parish in Wauwatosa, said that the call-in meetings were the next-best thing to getting together for in-person prayer.
Joining with others of a like mind for prayer, she said, is “sort of like eating at a party, versus eating by yourself. They’re both valid. One of them is just a lot more enjoyable.”
The Servants of Yahweh group has also been able to keep in touch via weekly Zoom meetings, said Schmeling. “Getting together in prayer is so important; you need to do it any way you can do it,” she said.
In addition to their virtual prayer times, the CCR was also able to meet for a (distanced) face-to-face Drive-In Prayer Meeting at the parking lot of the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center on Sept. 19. Bishop James T. Schuerman, Episcopal Advisor to the CCR, welcomed the group and prayed with them. From the safety of their parked cars, attendees were able to tune in via their car radios and enjoy praise and worship music, exhortations and prayer.
Bishop Schuerman walked around the parking lot greeting and blessing attendees from a distance. “It was wonderful — we loved it and it really fortified us to go on,” said Skrobiak. “When Bishop Schuerman started blessing us, people came out of their cars. It was a visual. They looked at each other and smiled and said hi — it was a sight to behold.”
“It was a spirit-lifter,” said Milnick.
Speakers featured at the Drive-in Prayer Meeting included Johny Bertucci, president of the Ark and the Dove, home of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the Pittsburgh area; Dr. Mark Nimo, an evangelist from Chicago and Brock Elstro, a local member of the CCR. All talks are currently available on the group’s website, ccrmilwaukee.com, under the “Media” tab.
An annual tradition of the CCR is to host a Christ the King Mass in November, but due to the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, the in-person Mass has been canceled. Instead, Skrobiak will send out a video talk encouraging CCR members to continue to pray for peace in the world and for an end to the pandemic.
The Monday call-in prayer group has now switched to Thursday evenings. For more information, call CCR office at 414-482-1727 or email Marianne Skrobiak at firstname.lastname@example.org.