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NOW OR LATER: Religious leaders divided over reopening plans after Walz’ newest order

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Berean Community Church in northwest Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) - Starting Wednesday, Governor Walz is allowing churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship to reopen if they follow CDC guidelines. He calls it a balance of personal freedoms and public safety.

"Public health requirements throughout time have required us to collaborate together. We are our brother's keeper in this case to making sure that what we do has an impact on greater Minnesota," Walz said. "It's going to have an impact on the spread or the slowing of it by those basic principles of staying home when you're sick, washing your hands, wearing a mask and keeping travel to a bare minimum. None of those things have changed."

Governor Walz' new order is good news for many, but others want to get a head start and reopen before Wednesday.

That's because this weekend's Memorial Day church services as well as Eid Mubarek celebrations will not be affected by this order, that is unless congregations choose to go against the governor's order and meet in person anyways.

There's a split among religious leaders about whether to wait til Wednesday to reopen or do so immediately as the president encouraged on Friday.

Some congregations such as High Point Church on North Frontage Road plan to open up in some form this Sunday. They plan to hold a drive-thru service and prayer between 10 in the morning and noon. Others are waiting until the 27th and beyond to meet up again.

"We want to honor the authorities as God calls us to and we're trying to do that," said Pastor Nathan Brand of Berean Community Church. "We also want to love our neighbor because there's people that are vulnerable to this virus."

The church's virtual Sunday morning service has actually brought in more people than their in-person services.

"We feel like it's been a good thing for outreach," said the pastor. "It's something we're going to continue. We're trying to ease back into things. Not everyone can return right away."

Churches reopening will have to find ways to follow social distancing and other public health guidelines.

"Typically we only have one service. When we get back together, we'll probably have two so that we can properly socially distance," Brand said. "We're looking forward to it."

With the virus' peak in Minnesota still ahead of us, state leaders recommend certain groups stay at home.

"People who are older and have underlying medical conditions are still at higher risk for severe illness and should consider avoiding these gatherings where they may be exposed," said Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Health commissioner. "I know how difficult that can be. I know that those are some of the folks most eager to reconnect with their faith communities."

Pastor Brand hopes whether people tune in or come out to church, they find encouragement during this strange time.

"Psalm 46 says that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble," said Brand.

The pastor says that while Sunday school classes, youth groups and certain events have had to be cancelled, he has stayed connected with church members through Facetime and Zoom.

Walz says that the churches are allowed to reopen because the CDC released new guidelines. When asked if his stance on graduations would change, he stated that if would depend if new guidelines come out.

Alex Tejada

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