Some churches say services still too risky

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

MINNEAPOLIS — Many religious leaders in Minnesota say it’s too soon to throw open their doors to the faithful, despite the governor’s recent decision to lift some coronavirus restrictions on places of worship.

Gov. Tim Walz said Saturday that the state will allow them to reopen starting Wednesday at 25% capacity, or a maximum of 250 people, whichever is lower. While the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, other Catholic dioceses and some other churches across Minnesota are making plans to resume services, other faith communities say the risks are still too great.

“It is irresponsible to be inviting people right now to worship within the walls of our congregation’s building,” the Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune.

Email newsletter signup

The 42 rabbis of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association were unanimous in saying in a statement that they will not yet open their synagogues because “the peak of COVID-19 has yet to come,” They said they’ll follow the state’s updated guidance issued Saturday “that it is much safer to continue worshiping and celebrating life cycle events from home at this time.”

And, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota said in a social media post that its affiliated places of worship would remain closed “until infection rates are reliably reported to decline in Minnesota.”

The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 12 new deaths and 745 new confirmed cases to raise the state’s death toll to 881 and its confirmed case count to 21,315. It said 605 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, with 248 in intensive care; both figures were new one-day highs.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who leads the Twin Cities archdiocese, said in a letter that parishes don’t have to resume Mass on Wednesday, and that parishioners over the age of 65 or who are especially vulnerable should stay home.

“The bishops of Minnesota have repeatedly told our pastors and parishes that they should only return to public Mass when they are able and willing to follow the many protocols that have been put in place — including sanitization and a few changes to the liturgy, particularly regarding the reception of Holy Communion,” he wrote. “If a parish is not confident they are ready, they should not open. Period. And if the faithful feel safer at home, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days continues to be dispensed.”

Starting Tuesday, it will be mandatory in Minneapolis to wear masks or other cloth face coverings inside stores, hotels, recreation centers, the skyway system and other government buildings. Businesses won’t be required to provide masks to customers or employees, though employers will be required to mandate the use of masks by their workers. Violations could be punished by fines of up to $1,000.

“With more commercial activity set to resume, it’s important that we right-size our approach to public health regulations given our city’s outsized footprint in the state,” Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement last week. “Wearing a cloth mask is not a substitute for the measures like safe physical distancing that have already helped us extend the curve, but it will help keep Minneapolis safer.”