His goal is to have every pew filled in time for Sunday Mass.

St. Anne Catholic Church in Columbus, Georgia, is one of countless churches no longer holding in-person services in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Pastor Robert Schlageter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the first service he conducted without any of the church’s 1,500 members was heartbreaking.

“It was so disconcerting because I never thought we’d get to the day when we’d be praying the Mass without our people,” he recalled. “We looked out in the congregation and there was no one there. It was really sad.”

Borrowing an idea from a priest in Italy, the St. Anne clergy came up with a way to fill their pews without putting any of their parishioners at risk. They asked students from St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School and members of the church to send in photos of themselves. The response was overwhelming, to say the least. According to AJC, more than 650 people emailed photos, including some who don’t even attend St. Anne. The church, Schlageter notes, “is almost filling up.”

St Anne Church Columbus
Credit: St. Anne Church

“We believe in prayer, and we know that we are loved by God no matter what and so no coronavirus, no challenge that we could ever face can separate us from the love of Christ,” he told WRBL.

Schlageter’s goal is to have every pew filled in time for Sunday Mass.  “It’s teaching all of us how much we mean to each other,” he told AJC.

You can email your family pictures to alwaystogether@stanneweb.com.