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Finding God in the midst of a pandemic

Churches forced to find new ways to meet the need of parishioners

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at how churches are finding ways to reach the people they serve during the COVID-19  outbreak.

St. Olaf Lutheran pastor Mark Niethammer knows that the world needs faith now more than ever, but he and other religious leaders in Austin are going to have to find a new way of delivering their message. The COVID-19 virus has reached its way to organized religion after the announcement by Gov. Tim Walz that no crowds of 10 or more should meet in one place.

Niethammer said he’ll do his best to get worship services on the St. Olaf’s website, but he knows that it cannot completely replace the face-to-face experience worshipers receive from their Sunday service. It is difficult for him to tell his church members to stay home on a Sunday.

“It’s really an excruciating decision because our identity as a church is to be a place where people foster their relationships with God and for the church to provide some sense of peace and hope in an otherwise anxious and fearful world,” Niethammer said. “The church needs to provide peace and hope and that’s harder when we can’t be together.”

Niethammer said St. Olaf is looking to find ways to video conference with parishioners and stay social without being face-to-face.

He also stressed that people can worship in their own way.

“For those who engage in prayer in their life, we ask them to keep going,” He said.

Scott Owens, the student ministries pastor at Faith Church in Austin, said they have had to suspend meeting in person as well and they have moved towards an online message.

The church is also looking to chip in and help with the United Way and with Austin Public Schools where any assistance is needed.

Owens said that 9 a.m. Sunday services will be live streamed at 9 a.m. on their website.

“A large part of the Christian faith and faith in general is to connect with other believers; however, the church doesn’t lie in a building. That can still happen,” Owens said. “The strongest place that religion can take hold is in a family. A family can read scripture together and pray together. We want to encourage our families to disciple their children and pray. We’re going to try to adjust to our new normal.”

Owens added that it’s a great time to connect with neighbors, especially if they are elderly, to see if they need any assistance.

St. Augustine’s Catholic Church will be looking to continue to bring God to parishioners. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyhearld.com

St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Austin has also seen its services come to a halt.  Father James Steffes said that they are in the early stages of working out a way to get masses online and that he will hold a private mass every day where he prays for the people and the Austin community.

The church will remain open for individual prayer and sacraments.

“I think it’s important that people remember that God is with us. Faith doesn’t stop,” Steffes said.