Coronavirus concerns bring changes to weekly religious worship

(FOX 9)

Places of worship throughout the Twin Cities will be closed or nearly empty this weekend as religious leaders are making drastic changes in order to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Temple Israel, the largest synagogue in Minnesota, announced Friday it will be postponing or cancelling all events through at least March 31st. Temple Israel includes about 2,000 families. Daycare services are also closed. Staff members are now preparing for services to be video streamed online. 

“When we say it’s safe to gather, you can rest assured it will be safe to do so,” said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel. “But until we know that, it’s our job as religious leaders to actually protect the entire community.”

Temple Israel’s decision to close comes just a day after Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced Catholics are not obligated to attend mass on Sunday until further notice.

“On Sundays for the archbishop to say you are not obliged to go is very significant thing because it’s at the very identity of who we are as a people,” said Father Kevin Finnegan of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, Minnesota.

Father Finnegan admitted he's relieved the 2,400 families belonging to his parish plus other Catholic churches across the Twin Cities are no longer obligated to attend mass amid coronavirus concerns. However, his biggest concern is the six-foot social distancing recommendation, which could turn into isolation for some of the community's oldest and most vulnerable.

“Make sure we are calling one another, checking in our neighbor who might live alone,” said Finnegan. “‘How ya doing? Is there anything I can get you? I’m going to the store.’” 

Mass times aren't changing, meaning Father Finnegan and other priests will be at the church for anyone still wanting to attend, but other noticeable changes are already being practiced. In the sanctuary, holy water is replaced with hand sanitizer. Routine hand holding and hugging are discouraged in favor of the six-foot social distancing recommendation.

A few of the faithful say they refuse to stay away. Daniel Betlock, who plans to head to church Sunday, says he believes it’s times like these when community is needed most.
“This is a good time for everyone to get on their knees and pray and be thankful and know this too will pass, but it’s going to take time,” said Betlock.