The Rev. Steve Berntson, of New Hope Lutheran Church, quoted Scripture in response to opening up the doors of his church amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
"If you look at Hebrews chapter 10 verse 25 it says 'do not give up meeting together as is the habit of some' and so we thought we need to meet together," Berntson said. "The council got together and unanimously decided that we can't stay closed down forever. We can practice some protocols but we have to figure out how to kind of return to being the body of Christ in person."
New Hope began holding regular worship services on May 3 after holding worship services solely online since the coronavirus pandemic hit North Dakota in mid-March. Churches were never ordered to close but North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. New Hope did not gather out of respect for the federal mandate barring groups of more than 10 people to gather.
"We need to be prudent and wise but we also need to move forward in faith and can't be controlled by fear," Berntson said. "We need to exercise common sense but we don't want to walk in a spirit of fear but in a spirit of faith."
Bernston said the church still recognizes the need to practice social distancing. New Hope now holds two services in order to prevent any unnecessary contact between congregant members. Households are being directed to sit with one another and at least 6 feet away from other households. When leaving the service the congregation is instructed to leave from the back of the sanctuary to the front. so as to not coagulate in the foyer.
The parishes aren't the only ones socially distancing.
"When we have Communion we are doing it in such a way that we socially distance the bread and the wine in trays," Bernston said with a chuckle. "We actually use cupcake papers for the bread to separate it. Then people come up and we stand back and do the blessing of the bread and wine from a bit of a distance."
Bernston said the format of a Sunday morning service is almost a pre-COVID-19 normal - but little changes speak to the new reality.
"We do sing, we have a worship team," Bernston said of the Sunday practices. "All of the Scripture readings, hymns and praise songs are on a screen. Some of those were on the screen before but for the hymns, they take out the hymnal and for Scripture readings, they take out the Bibles from the pew racks. We are now projecting all of the words so people don't need to handle those books."
Bernston said the church no longer passes the offering plate but rather has a spot for tithes and offerings in the back of the church. There is also no Sunday school and no food or drink served to the congregation. Berntson estimated that since the reopening of the building approximately 40% of the congregation has made an appearance. New Hope will continue to livestream its services and Berntson encouraged congregants to stay home if gathering in person causes them unrest.
"People have different individual concerns so people are making their own decisions as far as when to come back. We just trust that it will gradually build back."
The apprehension of the first few weeks of the pandemic has begun to subside at St. James Basilica as well.
"We'll get through this, it will be fine," said Monsignor Geoffery Wald. "I think it is important, not only as a church community but as Jamestown and our surrounding area is to be patient and supportive with one another and help each other stay healthy and continue to pray for each other."
Bishop John T. Folda of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo issued a statement March 18 that canceled all public celebrations of the Mass, sacraments and parish events throughout the Diocese of Fargo. On April 30, Bishop Folda released another statement calling for the resumption of Mass and other sacraments on beginning May 4.
"You have to understand that in the Catholic Church - it's not just me," Wald said. "The bishop has asked us to open up and just begin to have public liturgy so I am following the bishop's directive and opened things up. He's asked us to follow the protocols of distancing and disinfecting and wearing masks."
Due to the coronavirus' easily transmittable nature, especially through respiratory droplets, Folda also ordered no congregational singing, though a song leader may be asked to perform a solo.
While following the directives of the Diocese of Fargo, Wald made some decisions independent of the bishop's orders.
Wald increased the basilica's weekend Mass schedule. The basilica now holds Mass on at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday and at 7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. as well as 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. In Windsor, North Dakota St. Mathias is holding Mass at 8:30 a.m. while in Buchanan St. Margaret Mary gathers at 10:30 a.m.
Wald estimated that the basilica along with St. Mathias and St. Margaret Mary served around 300 people on the weekend of May 8 . Wald said typically just St. James serves approximately 750 members per weekend. At this time Folda has dispensed those in the vulnerable population and those with young children from attending Sunday Mass in efforts to prevent unnecessary contact.
While some are still staying in their own homes to as to not come down with the virus, Wald said he was encouraged by those coming together to meet after the season apart.
"They are desiring to come together and that is a great thing," Wald said. "There are people that are glad to be back just to see each other even though they have to keep that social distance. Just seeing each other makes a huge difference in their lives."