Coronavirus forces houses of worship to change some practices

Parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Paul’s Sunday noon Mass.
Parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Paul’s Sunday noon Mass. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis made changes to the service as a result of the coronavirus, including suspending the sign of peace and having those serving communion wash or sanitize their hands before serving.
Peter Cox | MPR News

At the Cathedral of St. Paul, the Sunday noon Mass included a reminder and a few new rules.

"Here at the cathedral, as always, if you are feeling ill, you have flu-like symptoms, you're certainly excused from Mass," said John Ubel, rector of the cathedral. "Secondly, we will be temporarily suspending the sign of the peace at the normal time during Mass. The extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion will purify their hands immediately before the communion rite."

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also suspended communion from the chalice, and discouraged hand holding during the Our Father prayer, Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a Friday statement.

For some attending the relatively full service at the cathedral, coronavirus wasn't top of mind.

"I didn't think about it until I got inside," said Beverly Johnson, who was visiting from the Mankato, Minn., area. She said she was conscious about touching her face and washing her hands, and she canceled a trip this month to Arizona. But Johnson wasn’t nervous about attending the service.

"I thought about it and I listened for people coughing and things like that," she said.

Other houses of worship are making changes because of the spread of the coronavirus.

"A couple of our senior members, last week they elected to wear the masks even during our service as a level of precaution," said Imam Makram El-Amin of the Masjid An-Nur mosque in Minneapolis.

El-Amin said he’s trying to educate members of the mosque about how to protect themselves and others.

"There's definite concern regarding the coronavirus and just the nature by which we gather together in a very close knit in terms of our prayer services," he said.

The Minnesota Department of Health says the two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state are in isolation at their homes. State officials are tracking down those who may have come in contact with them.

Health experts advise washing your hands frequently, stop touching your face and self-quarantine if you feel sick. The Minnesota Department of Health said Monday COVID-19 spread is not at a point where public places such as houses of worship or schools should close, nor should big events be canceled.

At Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, the church put hand sanitizer on communion tables to use before touching the elements. They taught people how to greet each other in sign language.

"On one hand, we want to be really careful about putting any procedures in place that can protect people and keep them safe from being infected by any kind of disease really, not just the coronavirus," said Pastor Bradley Schmeling. "But [we] also want to balance that with the need for human beings to gather in community and support one another, particularly in a time where there is anxiety about gathering."

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