MANKATO — Many of the Mankato-area Roman Catholic churches have yet to decide on whether to follow church leaders to resume in-person services at 33% capacity beginning May 26, but at least two have announced plans to do so.
On Wednesday, May 20, bishops of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Ulm and Winona-Rochester, along with the four other dioceses in Minnesota, expressed frustration at Gov. Walz’s decision to allow businesses to reopen while requiring churches limit services to 10 people or less.
“With the guidelines that the governor has laid out, churches are not being treated equally at all,” said Rev. Dennis Labat, pastor at the Church of St. Peter.
In a letter to church leaders, the six Catholic dioceses across Minnesota gave permission to affiliated church leaders to defy Walz’s order and let each church decide for themselves whether to resume services next week at 1/3 capacity. The Minnesota North and South Districts of the Lutheran Missouri Synod also wrote a letter with similar guidelines.
Rev. Adam Matheny, of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Mankato, referred questions to the Missouri Synod’s Southern District Office.
“We don’t have one (a plan) in place as far as next week just yet,” Matheny said.
But Labat said they will hold their first public Mass in two months next Wednesday, May 27, following social distancing guidelines.
“In the protocol we got from the bishops, we need to tape or mark off every two out of three pews,” Labat said. “So only every third pew is open to have people sitting in it. When you do social distancing in those pews, it’s well under 33% and probably more like 20% capacity.”
Rev. Andrew Vogel at St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center at Minnesota State University said he is also moving forward with their first public Mass on May 27. Because he serves a student population, church attendance drops significantly during the summer. He said the chapel has a capacity of 250, but during summer months the congregation drops to about 50-60 people.
“We’re going to proceed as we normally would, just because we won’t exceed that 1/3 here,” Vogel said.
Vogel also oversees three smaller parishes in Vernon Center, Mapleton and Good Thunder, which began offering Mass to less than 10 people last week through an online signup. Those small services will continue until early June, so he has time to follow church protocol for social distancing and sanitizing guidelines.
“In speaking with my pastoral council, we have decided to wait until Sunday, June 7, so we can get all of those things in place,” Vogel said.
Father John Kunz at St. John the Baptist said they will be holding off on returning to services next week to allow more time to prepare for when they do. But he said he will continue to hold baptisms, funerals and weddings in the meantime with 10 people or less in attendance.
“When the announcement was made, it was just too quick for us to do it well, so we are not opening next week,” Kunz said.
“We had a conversation with our bishop today and they had been in touch with the governor, so we’re still waiting. There’s supposed to be some more information coming out soon I hope.”
In the letter, the bishops who oversee the six dioceses in Minnesota said Gov. Walz’s requirement that churches limit capacity to 10 people is “an order that sweeps so broadly that it prohibits, for example, the gathering of 11 people in a Cathedral with a seating capacity of several thousand.”
Labat said the church is committed to both the spiritual, mental and physical well-being of its congregants.
“Obviously, we are very much concerned about people’s safety and health, especially for those who are more vulnerable,” he said. “I am one of them.”