Bethel, submitted photo.JPG

Bethel United Methodist in Mound is taking reopening slowly in response to Gov. Tim Walz increase capacity to 25 percent. (Submitted photo)

Places of worship in Minnesota now can reopen at a larger capacity after Gov. Tim Walz met with Minnesota faith leaders in May.

Walz increased the capacity allowance to 25 percent for places of worship, and some local churches have increased their in-person worship time while others have decided to wait to make a decision.

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Mound has been live-streaming its masses and it also began a drive-in mass in its parking lot. OLL began working before the announcement to prepare protocols to welcome back its parishioners as safely as possible. They’re still in the process of welcoming people back, and Father Tony O’Neill said he expects it to continue to be a slow process.

“Our protocols involve marking positions in the pews so that we can maintain social distancing. Parishioners wear masks during mass and we have no congregational singing. It certainly is a strange experience to preach to a congregation of people wearing masks. We have removed all the hymnals as well,” he said.

O’Neill adds they are being “very mindful” of the seniors that attend mass. Those over 65-years-old are encouraged “to not return into church masses yet,” even though O’Neill described them as some of their most faithful parishioners. OLL will also continue to hold drive-in mass for seniors and those who are high risk.

Bethel United Methodist in Mound also took to the internet once the stay-at-home order took effect. They began live-streaming worship on their Facebook page, where Pastor Jim Beard discovered the reach social media has.

“We chose not to tape it in advance because Bethel is a lot about family and interaction. Our faith is not a passive one. We wanted to maintain that sense of community and active participation while we were worshiping,” he said.

Their approach was to use a loft area that was set up as if Beard were talking to everyone in their living rooms to have a more intimate setting. Their live-streams also included music and interaction through Facebook by Beard and those watching. This was when the church noticed they were reaching worshippers outside the West Hennepin area.

“Families with mothers that are living in Wisconsin are now tuning in, or sisters who are up near Bemidji... I love that a family can worship together again in that form. We’re going to keep making sure that we offer online ministry this way even after we come back in the space again. We will continue the live-streams as well,” he said.

The strong online presence is just one reason why Bethel decided to make the move back to in-person worship slowly. Beard said they are paying close attention to the COVID-19 guidelines and are taking direction from their Bishop, who oversees the entire state.

“We are not rushing to get back into our sanctuary; however, they’ve encouraged us to look at outdoor worship. That is what we are exploring right now but even though there are these restrictions,” he said.

Bethel is currently surveying their people to ask if having outdoor worship is how they would like to come together while also making them aware of the restrictions such as hugging people or shaking hands. If the people come back saying they find it of value, Bethel will start implementing it, and if not they’ll keep connecting them in other ways.

“A great deal of our crowd is over 65. We definitely have an audience that we will make sure is safe, taken care of and not put at risk,” he said.

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