Brainerd lakes area church officials make changes to follow state’s recommendations

One church cancels all events for two weeks, other churches take steps to prevent any possible spread of the coronavirus


Church officials in the Brainerd lakes area were faced with difficult decisions regarding church services following Gov. Tim Walz’s urging Friday, March 13, to limit the size of gatherings throughout the state to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Walz and other Minnesota officials announced they would call on Minnesotans to cancel or postpone events with 250 people or more in attendance and limit gatherings of people vulnerable to the illness to under 10.

The Rev. Joyce Rush of St. Paul Episcopal Church in Brainerd made a decision to cancel all events for the next two weeks, including church services and all meetings. Rush made the decision after participating in an Episcopal Church Minnesota sponsored webinar in response to the coronavirus, about how the congregation could be “good shepherds, can love God and our neighbor.”

The Rev. Tony Wroblewski of Lakes Catholic Evangelization in Brainerd confirmed the Rev. James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, has dispensed Catholics in the diocese from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for the duration of the crisis.


Lakes Catholic Evangelization includes St. Francis, St. Andrew’s, All Saints and St. Mathias Catholic churches in the Brainerd area.

Masses in the parishes have not been canceled and people may still attend them. It's only the obligation to do so has been dispensed, Bissonette stated in an email.

“For Catholics, attending Mass on Sundays and certain other important holy days is an obligation and a precept of the church,” the news release stated. “That obligation is not binding in certain circumstances, for instance when it would be impossible or in cases of illness. For just reasons, the church’s pastors can also dispense or lift that obligation for the faithful.”

Masses will continue to be celebrated at the usual times in parishes and institutions, but if a parishioner is sick or poses a risk to themselves or to others, they should refrain from attending.

Bissonette advised parishes to cancel any large parish gatherings through the month of March, extending that as necessary. That includes the diocesan Women’s Conference, which was scheduled for March 28.

Bissonette also advised pastors, at their discretion, to suspend the practice of Communion and suspend the physical exchange of the Sign of Peace to help reduce the likelihood of disease transmission.

People who are unable to attend Mass are encouraged to “still do what we can to keep holy the Lord’s Day,” Bissonette said. He suggested following Mass on television, the radio or online; making a spiritual communion; and other practices, such as silent prayer, reading Scripture, praying the rosary or other prayerful devotions.

“As all of us rise to the challenges presented by the coronavirus, let us remember to pray for one another and to support one another as children of God and brothers and sisters of the Lord, most especially those affected by this virus and those who care for them,” he said.


Wroblewski said all the St. Francis Fish Fries for the rest of March are canceled, though the March 13 fish fry did occur because it was already organized and set up. Wroblewski said the fish fries do not seat more than 200 people at a time. The fish fry typically has about 300 people who attend, but they are not at the church at the same time, it is over a three-hour period.

Other changes include:

  • All fellowship, coffee and doughnuts after Masses are canceled at all the Catholic churches in Brainerd and Baxter.

  • The Adoration Chapel at St Andrew’s will not have Exposition for the rest of March.

  • Lenten Suppers on Wednesday’s are canceled at St Andrew’s.

  • Ham Bingo on Sundays at St. Andrew’s are canceled.

  • 40 Hours of Adoration at St. Francis will be modified to limit numbers.

  • St. Francis school is following the lead of the Brainerd Public Schools.

Wroblewski said further cancellations are possible as they move forward and as they watch what the coronavirus does.
The Rev. Steven Rye of Lord of Life in Baxter said the church is canceling or postponing smaller events with fewer than 250 people in settings that don’t allow social distancing of 6 feet per person.

“It’s a fluid situation (Friday),” Rye said. “We really need to think everything we do through.”

Rye said a typical service at the church is just over 200 people. The church has space for overflow to set up to help spread people out, but Rye said he was not sure if they would do that.

Things the church is doing to help prevent possible spread of the virus include no longer having greeters at the entrance at the worship services; not shaking hands during the Sign of Peace; and not holding hands during the communion procedure.

Rye said church organizers also are preparing to stream worship services online and are making arrangements for staff to work from home. They’re also setting up a “calling buddy program” for seniors to contact each other during this time to stay connected.

“At this moment I’m not sure whether or not we can comply with this,” Rye said of the state’s recommendation of having fewer than 250 people in a space and to not allow social distancing of 6 feet per person. “Worship in community requires a sense of intimacy that is hard to maintain when we’re trying to keep 6 feet away from each other.”


Calls made Friday to other churches in Brainerd were not returned. Some churches posted information on websites or Facebook pages. Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa stated it will have hand sanitizers in multiple locations and encouraged people to practice the best hygiene practices, such as washing hands for at least 20 seconds and covering their coughs and sneezes.

The church stated it will not use the communion rails for the remainder of the Lent season; communion assistants will wash their hands before they serve communion; the baptismal font will be moved to the corner and will be without water unless they have a baptism; the nursery will not be offered; there will be smiles instead of handshakes and hugs from the pastor; and during the coffee hour, doughnuts will be served at the counter by the coffee servers, who will be wearing food service gloves.

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JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.
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