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Faith in a time of fear

St. Louis church leaders are urging the most vulnerable to stay home and telling all Catholics mass is no longer considered an obligation

ST. LOUIS — After a week of so much stress in the world, church is exactly where people of the faith want to be on a Sunday, but with concerns over large gatherings, things were different even inside this week.

“Prayer helps and I think it certainly keeps our minds and hearts in the right place,” said Father Kevin Schroeder of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield.

The Bible says where two or three are gathered in His name, God is there—but health officials say, so is extra risk. 

Sunday morning, St. Louis City and County were still operating with crowd bans of 1,000 and 250 people, respectively. By Sunday evening, the CDC advised against any gatherings of more than 50 people.

“We just continue to pray for the researches and the scientists and doctors and definitely get a remedy to this,” said Colleen Foster, who brought her mom Margaret McCullough to mass Sunday morning.

RELATED: Archdiocese of St. Louis mandates churches stop using chalice, shaking hands at Mass

Those bans on large gatherings in St. Louis made exceptions for religious events—so mass at Incarnate Word was packed full and close.

“I did look at the facts as of this morning,” said Foster of her decision to bring her mom to church. “I liked our chances, and I knew that where she lives,” referring to her mother’s assisted living home, “and also the Archdiocese was taking steps to reduce any chances."

And leaders said they are taking steps like urging the most vulnerable to stay home---and telling all Catholics mass is no longer considered an obligation, for the next three weeks.

“We're taking this seriously by extra cleaning by limited hand contact throughout the mass,” said Schroeder. “I think that’s important to let them know that we're thinking about them and not just assuming that it will all blow over and not be a problem.”

Even during bad flu seasons, the holy water, the chalice at communion, and shaking hands are the first norms to go. But telling Catholics they don't have to go to mass, even during Lent? That is unprecedented.

“It really is an unusual circumstance. I think bishops and healthcare professionals know we have a chance to stop this from being terrible for a lot of people and we have a responsibility to do what we can right away,” said Schroeder.

RELATED: St. Louis Catholics 'dispensed from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass'

At The Journey Christian church in Tower Grove, the tune is familiar for a Sunday as the band warms up, even if the setting is not. They are preparing to perform in front of an empty church.

“We really do want people to be encouraged, we want people to be strengthened, we want people to come together in this time," said Pastor Curtis Gilbert.

He said they were prepared to boost cleaning services and make sanitizer available, but he knows most of their church locations across the bistate have crowds larger than 250. That lead to their decision to only live stream services until concerns over the novel Coronavirus have passed.

“It's going to be a unique change and only preaching to a few people helping us get this through,” said Gilbert, “but I still believe the thousands on the other sides of the camera, they're going to get what's needed.”

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