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Hybrid virtual/in-person retreats and programs reach even more seekers

It’s close to the start of the program. People wander into the Foley Room in Providence Spirituality & Conference Center and take their seats. Tables and chairs are arranged around the speaker podium where a laptop is perched. The large screen television located across from the podium at the end of the room is turned on. In the past the purpose of the TV was for sharing materials with the program attendees in the room, but this time it has another purpose.

Sister Jan Craven, SP, center, leads a hybrid virtual and in-person spiritual program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

When the pandemic began to ease, the Sisters of Providence cautiously welcomed visitors back to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. This included reopening programs and workshops, some of which had been moved exclusively online during the pandemic. But the virtual programming had become popular with our attendees, so the sisters decided they needed to think of a way to do both. Thus, the hybrid program was born.

Here and there

Indiana State Professor Emeritus, Dr. Arthur Feinsod, was one of our first facilitators to present to both an in-person and online audience.

“I had the joy of leading hybrid sessions on the Faith Thinkers series offered through the Sisters of Providence toward the end of 2021 and in the beginning of 2022. I have gone from being a doubter to a firm believer in the possibilities of hybrid programs. I was expecting challenges but was pleasantly surprised that those challenges rarely or never presented themselves and that suddenly there were possibilities for communicating material that would have been much more difficult if the attending group were exclusively live or exclusively virtual.”

It took some trial and error to make the experience pleasant for all, but eventually the challenges lessened. By using multiple computers and webcams, both in-person and online attendees are able to see each other as well as the presenter. The real game changer, however, was the addition of a special microphone/speaker combo so everyone could hear each other clearly.

Dr. Arthur Feinsod, at right, leads a hybrid in-person and virtual program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Together in a new way

Dr. Feinsod has perspective of using the technology for hybrid programming. “I do realize how important it was putting preparatory time into what we call in theater “tech rehearsals” prior to the actual teaching sessions to make sure the technology can work well and smoothly when it is needed.

Sister Paula Damiano, SP, director of programming at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center, has also become a believer in the hybrid programming model. “The hybrid format is allowing people from around the world to benefit from the many and diverse program offerings. It’s bringing people together in a new way. Some are remaining in contact with one another long after the program ends,” she said.

One person who benefitted from the hybrid programming is Providence Associate Linda McMahon. “Living in Southern California, I am limited in my opportunities to regularly experience in person the Providence Spirituality & Conference Center’s retreats, programs and prayer events. The virtual and livestream options, however, have provided me with an ongoing spiritual and interactive connection with Providence and with many members of our Providence Community, those participating at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and those online with me.” Of course, participating online can’t replace being here but it does provide some connection. “Although my heart continues to long to be at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in person, it has been nourished and blessed through the mutual sharing of our trust in Providence and our time “spent together.”

Based on the popularity of hybrid programming it looks like it is here to stay. Dr. Feinsod agrees. “I look forward to teaching more hybrid classes on Faith Thinkers, live and on Zoom, in the future.”

See upcoming programs from the Sisters of Providence at Events.SistersofProvidence.org.

Originally published in the summer 2022 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Mary Riley

Mary Riley is the marketing manager for some ministries of the Sisters of Providence including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and the Volunteer Services.

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