As president calls places of worship 'essential,' Minnesota faith leaders weigh return to in-person service

Places of worship around the country have been given the green light by President Donald Trump to begin reopening Friday afternoon.

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very essential places of faith to open right now,” said President Trump in a press conference. 

The announcement comes just days after Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced Catholic churches in Minnesota can and should reopen despite orders from the governor to stay closed. 

While some places of worship are looking to welcome back parishioners this weekend, others have announced they will be staying closed for the time being. 

According to The Church of St. Timothy in Maple Lake and St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Annandale, some of the parishioners and a priest have tested positive for COVID-19. Two other clergy members are now showing symptoms. The Basilica of St. Mary’s also announced their doors will remain closed as they continue to try protect their parishioners.

“This is going to take some time and it will probably be a little messy, and no doubt, as there have been, there will continue to be a few missteps along the way,” said Father John Bauer of The Basilica of St. Mary.

In some cases, faith leaders are seeing an increased response from their congregations as they have switched to virtual services amid the pandemic.

“We’re actually even more engaged and more robust in terms of our outreach and our classes and our worship services,” said Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue.

The synagogue offers daily outreach online.

“They’re not only well-attended, but some of them are attended in even greater numbers than they were in-person and so we don’t have people clamoring and banging on the door, saying we really want to get back in the building,” said Olitzky.

It’s a similar story two miles away at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, where there are no plans to reopen the building anytime soon.

“Doing our best to make decisions based on what we think is best for our community because we know our community better than anybody,” said Pastor Baul Baudhuin of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

Muslim leaders are also encouraging families to celebrate Eid, the festival which marks the end of Ramadan, at home.

“We are doing this to keep our community safe and to care for our neighbors. This does not mean that the spirit of Eid is gone. We will bring the joy of Eid to our homes and share it virtually,” said Abdulahi Farah, Muslim Coalition of Faith in Minnesota and ISAIAH lead organizer in a press release.

Under the announcement from Archbishop Hebda, Catholic churches that do choose to reopen are required follow safety guidelines, which include limiting attendance to one-third of the seating capacity, asking anyone that is 60 or older or vulnerable to stay home, requiring all to wear masks when in service, maintaining social distancing and more.

Governor Tim Walz held a closed call with church leaders throughout the state Friday morning, but it's unclear what transpired during the call. A spokesman from Governor Walz’s office released a statement, saying Walz has had “productive conversations” with faith leaders over the last few weeks.

“The Governor’s top priority continues to be the health and safety of Minnesotans, and he looks forward to reviewing the new CDC guidance to better understand what this means for places of worship in Minnesota,” read the statement.

The CDC has also updated its guidance for places of worship, recommending hand sanitizer, masks, more cleaning and social distancing if they reopen.