Churches are gradually reopening around the area as COVID-19 restrictions loosen. Over the weekend, it was St. Pauls Lutheran Church’s turn to get back together.

Sunday’s 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. worship services were the first St. Pauls has had in its sanctuary since March. On Saturday, the church’s chapel hosted a 5 p.m. service.

Everyone wore face masks. Seating was restricted to every other row.

As he welcomed people to the 9 a.m. service, usher Del Garrelts told people, “Sit wherever you want, as long it’s a green row. Everything’s going to be different and strange for a while.”

The pews taped with blue stripes were reserved for the 11 a.m. service.

Another usher, Rich Hohnstein, joked that he hadn’t worn anything other than tennis shoes on his feet for six months.

Interim Senior Pastor Myron Meyer said it was good to be back, although it felt strange having everybody wearing face masks.

“I told one parishioner after church I felt like we were in the operating room during service,” Meyer said.

Challenging months

One of the hymns Sunday was “All Are Welcome.”

“We’re glad to be able to offer in-person worship and just being in the same space with people interacting as we share God’s word physically with one another, but we will continue to offer our online services and radio ministry,” Associate Pastor Bill Pavuk said. St. Pauls knows that for a lot of people it’s too soon or they’re “just not ready to come back.”

The past few months have been challenging, Pavuk siad.

St. Pauls has been moving into using web-based resources. But “we’re still very much novices with that,” he said. “So it was challenging in that respect.”

But he pointed out during the Sunday services that many acts of kindness have been done during the pandemic.

In spite of not being able to gather together for worship, “so many people continued to connect,” step up “and share their faith in the way that they took care of others in our community,” Pavuk said.

In addition, “We have great volunteers who helped us to put together good worship experiences while we were away,” Pavuk said.

Eric Lorenz, one of the church’s sound and tech people, “worked very hard with our musicians and myself and Pastor Myron to see that we continued to stay connected,” Pavuk said.

Church followed guidances

St. Pauls Lutheran has heeded the guidances of the Central District Health Department, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the ELCA Nebraska Synod. “So we’re trying to follow everybody’s suggestions for the safest worship we can do,” Meyer said.

The ELCA has left decisions about reopening up to individual congregations, Meyer said.

The previous two weekends, St. Pauls held its worship services outdoors.

Getting together at those gatherings felt “like a great relief,” Pavuk said. It was “like a burden being lifted.”

The weather was pretty favorable, she said.

St. Pauls worship services will continue to be carried online. The services are also heard on the radio at 1430 AM and 105.5 FM. Normally, those broadcasts are a week behind. But during the pandemic, Pavuk and Meyer have been recording a service earlier in the week so that the broadcasts will be up to date.

Hum if they want to

At the beginning of the 9 a.m. service, Pavuk talked about keeping people safe. Some research he’s seen talked about aerosolized particles being projected by singers. So he suggested that people could just hum if they wanted.

Pavuk said he is “really, truly grateful” not only for the discipline and patience of the St. Pauls congregation, but also the discipline, patience, hard work and sacrifices shown by “so many in our community.” Those efforts “have helped us move towards these opportunities being available again.”

He’s very grateful, especially in seeing that reopening “seems to have been a lot more difficult in some parts of the country.”

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