By Marielle Mohs

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Starting next week, worship leaders who want to have in-person services are allowed to do so — at 25% occupancy, with continued social distancing and other health guidelines — under Gov. Tim Walz’s new executive order.

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Several places of worship are putting new protocols in place to reopen safely, including New Hope Baptist Church in east St. Paul. Lead Pastor Runney Patterson Sr. says they will only allow three parishioners in each pew; one on each end and one in the middle. There will be an exception for families, who will be allowed to sit together.

“We make sure that everything’s sanitized, and people have to have on the gloves, have to have on the masks,” Patterson said.

He also plans to expand services, instead of just holding one on Sunday morning.

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“We’ll probably go to multiple services and not try to put our seniors and those with vulnerable conditions in the same service as others,” he said.

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These are the types of safety changes that make some parishioners feel comfortable enough to return to an in-person service. John Frank, a parishioner at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Woodbury, says worshipers can feel safe when everyone knows, and follows, the rules.

“We’ve been attending church in St. Ambrose in our car the last few weeks, which [has] been good, but you miss out on some of the interpersonal connection with folks,” Frank said.

As valuable as those connections are, Pastor Patterson Sr. does not believe they are more valuable than good health, which is why he’s making safety the priority in the sanctuary.

“I want people to come in to worship. I don’t want to be doing funeral, after funeral, after funeral because we took a foolish step,” Patterson said.

Several places of worship WCCO reached out said they will continue to keep their services to online only, which includes the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. They said they are still working on a plan to safely reopen, and will do so when they have one in place.

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Marielle Mohs