SOUTH BEND, Indiana— COVID-19 has put Catholic parishes through the ringer, forcing them to change how they worship, provide social services, and foster community at a rapid pace. That’s why a handful of lay Catholic leaders are teaming up to acknowledge the success of parishes as they work through unprecedented challenges.

Their idea? The Parish Excellence Awards, a virtual contest to crown the best parish in 16 different categories relating to how they handled the pandemic. 702 parishes have been nominated, and the winners will be recognized during a virtual summit from Nov. 9 to 13.

Organizers said that parish employees can often be unsung heroes even during normal times, but the pandemic calls for an even greater appreciation of their dedication.

“There are so many parish staff and pastors who are just working their tails off,” said Scot Landry, who started the summit and the awards. “They had to learn how to do a lot of things in a very quick time frame.”

The 16 categories assess how parishes adapted to fulfill their role during the pandemic, from the quality of their broadcast Mass to their leverage of social media as a resource for communication.  

Landry said that each category will have criteria associated with it, and a committee to judge each parish on those criteria. 

In the category of ‘technical excellence in Mass broadcast,’ for instance, the committee will look for distinguishing factors such as the clarity of the broadcast’s image, how many angles the broadcast uses, and whether or not they display prayers on the screen. Whichever broadcast is voted on as the most sophisticated would win that award, though there are other honors like ‘participation and engagement in Mass broadcast’ with different criteria.

But the awards and summit won’t just be a pat on the back for innovative parishes. They’re also an opportunity to highlight best practices from around the country, and organizers hope it will give Catholic congregations new ideas to up their game. 

More than 1,000 people have registered for the summit as of this week, Landry said, and he expects that number to increase as the conference gets closer. The event is free to attend.

While this is the first year of the Parish Excellence Awards and Summit, Landry hopes the tradition will continue beyond 2020. Next year’s summit, he said, could focus on how to bring back Catholics who have left the Church since Mass moved online in March. 

This year, though, Landry’s hope is that parishes feel recognized for the hard work they’ve demonstrated during the pandemic.

“I hope every parish nominated feels a boost,” he said, “because someone in their parish noticed their hard work and wanted to share it.”