As state reopens, religious student groups keep gatherings small but connected

Since Gov. Tim Walz began allowing religious gatherings at 25% capacity, worship groups considered whether to remain online or begin meeting in person.

Illustration by Luis Mendoza

Luis Mendoza

Illustration by Luis Mendoza

Brooke Sheehy

Religious student groups on campus are adjusting worship and outreach efforts as the state slowly reopens.

The state began allowing places of worship to increase attendance from 10 people per service up to 25% capacity near the end of May. For many places of worship near the University of Minnesota, that means additional students residing near campus for the summer can gather for in-person meetings to share in their faith. 

However, multiple groups have still remained primarily online due to a smaller student presence around campus and other difficulties.

Bridges International, a nonprofit religious organization serving international students that has a student branch at the University, will be continuing its Minneapolis Summer Project.

“It’s been really cool that we are able to continue the MSP program so students that were planning to go abroad or going to other summer projects are able to join this one as a replacement,” said Bridges International event coordinator Hannah Kermott.

The project, mostly occurring in Minneapolis, aims to build community and teaches multicultural ministry by showing how Jesus values every culture.

Since the Twin Cities-based project is generally a smaller one, the group has only had to make a few changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the main differences with this project is that we try to coordinate some fun events for both American and international students,” Kermott said. “Every year we coordinate a big lake weekend … that’s usually 50 to 60 people, and that won’t really be possible now.”

Instead, Kermott and her team with Bridges International are planning to get creative with smaller events and day trips at the end of the summer.

Chabad at the Rohr Center for Jewish Student Life at the University has not expanded to 25% capacity since many students are still out of town. Rabbi Yitzi Steiner said they have still worked to maintain connection to the students near campus but have not planned major events for the summer.

“There are obviously different aspects of the faith-based community, whether it is services and large gatherings, such as Shabbat dinners on Friday night, and actual personal relationships with the students,” Steiner said.

Chabad is a community where people love seeing their friends whom they typically only interact with through Chabad settings, Steiner said. Since Chabad remains primarily online, they regularly host “schmooze and Zoom” sessions.

“We sit, chat, with no agenda kind of thing and just hang out together,” Steiner said.

The Newman Center, a campus ministry for Catholic students to meet and share in their faith, will not likely be meeting at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Dinkytown for the rest of the summer.

On a typical Sunday, St. Lawrence would be full at all Mass times. With COVID-19 restrictions, it has reduced its service offerings to only two Masses each Sunday. The church has also added a pre-registration requirement. Attendance has reduced significantly to about 30 people per Mass. 

The Newman Center continues to host online meetings until the student group can meet in-person again in the fall.

“We are trying to keep people connected with one another and keep relationships going by using online media the best we can,” said Matthew Warnez, a brother within the church. “And then using the time as well to do some deeper formation on how to pray about the faith.”