Returning to worship? Many say they’re still waiting

June 25, 2020

Many in Sioux Falls who attend church aren’t ready to go back in person yet, according to a survey conducted by SiouxFalls.Business and the Augustana Research Institute.

More than 700 readers shared insight into how they’re approaching reopening and recovery during COVID-19 in an open survey conducted from June 1-8. It is not a scientific survey, but it does include representation from all age groups. Respondents were about 70 percent female and 30 percent male.

One in four respondents said going to a place of worship wasn’t applicable to them. Forty-two percent said they do not feel comfortable attending in person, and 32 percent said they do.

“We are attending our church virtually, and it’s been wonderful,” one respondent said. “Our congregation is quite large, so it’s best we wait until it’s safe for us to be together.”

Others who have gone back had varying opinions.

“Very socially distant at church,” one said. “We are back, but it looks very different.”

“Too few of the fellow parishioners are wearing masks,” another said.

One pastor who responded to the survey said, “We have taken reasonable precautions all along the way and communicated frequently with people and encouraged them to do what they are comfortable doing.”

Others pointed to not wanting to put fellow church-goers at risk and fear about being in a confined area for a longer period of time, while another wrote, “God is my protector, what should I fear?”

At a recent meeting of the Catholic priests in Sioux Falls, most reported attendance at 20 percent to 30 percent of normal, said the Rev. Chuck Cimpl, pastor at Holy Spirit Catholic Church and vicar general for the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls.

“But people coming back appreciated having the Mass live instead of watching it virtually,” he said. “There have been some weekends … because the bishop gave us permission to do first communion and confirmations when some of the crowds have been bigger at some Masses … but there has been enough space in the church for social distancing.”

Social distancing, with pews marked off, has been uniform throughout the city’s churches, he said. The approach to giving communion has differed, and some churches have Masses where there is no singing.

“The other thing we talked quite a bit about … is the whole area of masks,” he said. “Of the nine Catholic parishes in the city, seven don’t have very many wearing masks, and two have more. As we go around town, you see the same thing.”

The lack of masks and staying in an enclosed place are the two main reasons he hears from those not yet comfortable returning. Those also were common themes from survey respondents.

“The church is not a building,” one said. “I can worship and pray without being in the physical company of my priest. I would rather avoid it and keep myself, as well as those who do attend, safe.”

Another suggested that “if it were held outdoors, like a drive-thru service, I might consider it.”

First Lutheran Church might be a fit. The downtown church has held one parking lot service and is planning another at 7 p.m. Sunday. Attendees are offered the chance to come on certain dates based on groups of last names to limit the crowd.

“Proper physical distancing will be required, and masks are strongly encouraged,” the church said in a statement. “These abbreviated services will be offered in addition to Sunday morning broadcast worship and will include both well-beloved hymns and contemporary music led by the FLC worship band.”

Crowd sizes might be a key to comfort level. One person who tried a service estimated 800 people attended the first Sunday.

“That is far too many people,” the respondent said.

At Embrace, which has multiple campuses and regularly streams services regardless of COVID-19, in-person services on the South Dakota campuses returned May 24. Child care reopened June 21, and elementary programs are coming back July 12.

The church estimates 40 percent of members have returned, which is double what it was the first week of reopening. Online attendance has quadrupled since before COVID-19.

At the services, “we’re spacing out rows in the sanctuary and propping open doors so the environment can be as touch-free as possible,” Embrace said in a statement, adding that offering baskets were eliminated and people are encouraged to give online or in a secure box.

“Volunteers and greeters welcome people with waves and smiles rather than with handshakes.”

From reopening to wearing masks, Sioux Falls weighs in on COVID-19 recovery

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Returning to worship? Many say they’re still waiting

Many in Sioux Falls who attend church aren’t ready to go back in person yet, our newest survey found.

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