With the Easter holiday approaching and Minnesota taking part in shelter at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many community members and church-goers are curious what that means for the upcoming holiday, and church services in general.

With the Easter holiday approaching and Minnesota taking part in shelter at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many community members and church-goers are curious what that means for the upcoming holiday, and church services in general.

“I think that this has been really hard on our folks who rely on church to be a social outlet, especially the older members,” said Pastor Matt Philaya of Salem Lutheran Church. “I have, to a certain degree, had success with getting folks to participate in what we do online. There are some who cannot or won’t, but there are a surprising number of seniors who have taken out that phone or iPad and figured it out.”

One thing that Pastor Philaya has done is continue hosting a morning coffee group that meets at 10 a.m. on Fridays.

“If you want to stop over at Salem around 10 a.m., you are welcome to join,” said Philaya.

In response to the celebration of Easter, Philaya said, “During this outbreak, Salem Lutheran Church has been partnering with Our Savior’s of Baxter and also with Saron Lutheran Church for online worship on Sundays and Wednesday evenings using Zoom. Pastor Matt Danielson serves the latter two, and I serve Salem.

“This arrangement has worked well and we will be doing it for Easter, and as long as we need to,” he continued. “The collaboration allows us to work together. Pastor Matt Danielson and I plan the service together; he has been preaching, and I have been focusing on leading the service, as well as running the Zoom end of things.”

Pastors Danielson and Philaya broadcast live from Salem, where they’ve converted a conference room into a “studio” with equipment set up in front of an old altar facade.

“To minimize our exposure to each other, we do all the planning on Zoom and only meet in person to lead worship where we then try our best to practice social distancing. We have had an excellent response from the congregations, with many folks tuning in who would never otherwise consider watching an online service, or do much of anything online for that matter,” said Philaya.

According to Pastor Danielson, at Saron and Baxter, members have been reaching out to other members to see how they can help.

“Our main findings have been that there are more people looking to help than people who need help, and that people want to visit, and they appreciate it when someone checks in on them,” said Danielson. “We have been using our website and Facebook extensively to offer words of encouragement and short videos.

“I hope that what we learn during this time translates to a more agile and engaged church when we come out on the other side,” continued Danielson. “People may or may not feel the need for church, but we were created to live in relationship with God.”

According to Pastor Linda Estling of Immanual Lutheran Church of Tunsberg Township, they were very hopeful of being able to share Easter Worship together.

“But, as the followers of Jesus realized during the first Holy Week, we will be holding our Easter service together, apart,” said Estling. “The original Easter was a time of social distancing with Jesus’ disciples and followers isolated in their secluded rooms. Even after Mary discovered the empty tomb and made it known, the disciples returned to the place where they could feel semi-safe and remain in seclusion at a time when they were afraid of the unknown future.”

Estling said that they thought about holding worship, but didn’t know what to do if there were more than 10 people in attendance, keeping the social distancing standard of six feet apart from each other. They also thought about holding an outdoor service, similar to a drive-in, but was unsure of what to do if weather was uncooperative, or those with hearing issues who wouldn’t be able to hear over the karaoke speaker system over the sound of the wind.

They finally decided to hold an online service, what many churches are doing this Easter to ensure the health of its congregation and to give everyone a peace of mind.

“In the midst of today’s fear and sorrow,” said Estling, “we will continue to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection together, apart, as we join together via Zoom for our 10 a.m. Easter worship. Contact me via email at gestling@frontiernet.net, or via text message at (507) 476-8262 for the Zoom web address, phone number and ID to join us.”

Trinity Lutheran Church of Montevideo will also be holding Easter worship online, Sunday morning at 9 a.m. on Facebook (facebook.com/tlcmonte), and throughout the week on TV on channel 180.

“Trinity Lutheran is also asking all members to contribute to the food shelf, and to be checking in on neighbors to make sure all people in the community are cared for during this difficult time,” said Pastor Jeff Fitzkappes.

The Refuge Church, in addition, will be holding Facebook devotions from Monday, April 5 through Friday, April 10, “The Stations of the Cross culminating on Good Friday,” said Pastor Bruce Jarman.

They will also be doing a Facebook live service for Easter.

“In the meantime, we have also been trying to stay in touch with local folks to identify needs and how we might help!” said Jarman.

Weather permitting, St. John’s Lutheran Church of Sparta Township will be holding an outdoor service. According to Pastor Kent Borglum, government approval has been received and they will be holding a service formatted similar to that of a drive-in movie. Parking will be on the north side of the church, and people will stay in their vehicles during the service. Those who need hearing assistance are encouraged to park closer to the church building, and there will also be attendants to help as needed.

“One of our members donated a flatbed trailer to use,” said Borglum. “We will have two large speakers tied into the church organ and into my wireless microphone.”

Borglum will be standing on the flatbed in order to lead the outdoor service.

“We’ll also put a table on the trailer for the altar cross and flowers. Worship service bulletins have been prepared, including the hymns, for a no-hymnal worship service so as to eliminate contact with hymnals that would be taken back into the church. Offerings will be accepted as everyone leaves the parking lot via either the south or west side,” said Borglum.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Havelock Township, the other half of the dual parish, is also invited to attend, as is anyone in the city of Montevideo who does not have a church home, added Pastor Borglum.