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As Easter approaches, Christians find strength in their faith

For Christians, Palm Sunday, observed Sunday, began the most important week in the liturgical calendar, But as the spread of COVID-19 continues, most churches remain shuttered.

It’s a difficult time for Christians, who’ve spent 40 days preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the centerpiece of their faith.

Heather Olson, a member of Hauge Lutheran Church, is sharing links sent by her pastor, the Rev. Gideon Johnson, while connecting online with the churches of her friends — from California to Czechoslovakia.

“Without my faith, I know that I would be very self-involved and discouraged during this time,” said Olson, a counselor at a Plymouth-based Bible college.

Although she admits feeling isolated at times, Olson said her faith allows her to look beyond herself, to Jesus Christ and how he is working during this time. She believes the pandemic is a good time for the church to reach out to people to show them how God has spoken to them.

“Without that, I would be very discouraged, very feeling alone and in this isolation and not probably willing to reach out to other people doing the same thing,” Olson said.

One of her favorite biblical passages is in Corinthians, in which God is described as saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest in me.”

‘We’re living, breathing, we’re working together’

Like so many of faith leaders, Episcopal priest, the Rev. Henry Doyle, is leading services without a congregation; believers view the Mass on Facebook or listen to recorded sermons. Services, now shortened, include a liturgy of the word but not the Eucharist. As many as 200 people stream church services online, and Doyle shares the Mass with his thousands of Facebook friends, who sometimes leave comments thanking him for doing so.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, where Doyle works in alumni relations and outreach, will remain closed for Easter services. He also serves as a father at Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault.

But that hasn’t discouraged Doyle, who shared a message he recently received explaining that in-person church services are only a small portion of the work of the church.

“The church has always been the people who gather together to do the work of compassion and mercy and love and justice, regardless of where they gather,” he said. “They are living, breathing, animated sanctuaries who house divinity. In these terrifying, draining, disorienting moments, the church is doing what it was always supposed to do.”

To Doyle, examples of the church’s message can be seen in exhausted health care workers on the front lines, courageous first responders caring for others on a daily basis, grocery store employees constantly working to fill ever-emptied shelves, and the efforts of parents, teachers, and nonprofit and charity workers.

“We’re living, breathing, we’re working together,” he said. “The church is being the church outside of that physical space where we come to worship together.”

‘The Lord will bring us through this time’

Johnson, Hauge Lutheran pastor, says he’s received notes thanking him for sharing hope-filled messages. He is planning for congregants to send in Easter greetings stating, “He is risen,” so parishioners tuning in to his online service Easter Sunday can see the messages of hope.

“The Lord will bring us through this time,” he said.

Johnson cannot track the number of people who watch online, but he is aware of the number of views the videos receive. There were approximately 80 views on March 22. That number swelled to around 175 March 29, a larger audience than he typically has for in-person services. The number of views, he believes, shows people are hungry to share a Christian message with others.

“To me, it’s very encouraging to know that the church has a passion for sharing those things,” he said.

To Johnson, Kenyon’s faith community is similar to those around the world in that there is a sense of devotion amongst church-goers. He said although he hasn’t seen a lot of people in-person due to social distancing measures, he’s noticing a stronger pull to churches during the pandemic.

A unique approach

For the first time in his 46 years of ministry, the Rev. Denny Labat of the Church of St. Peter in St. Peter observed Mass privately due to the pandemic. The Diocese of New Ulm recently stipulated there would be no public masses through at least April 13.

This week, Diocese of New Ulm Bishop John M. LeVoir will post a video of him privately celebrating the Mass on the diocese website. The diocese will also post videos of services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The bishops of the dioceses of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Winona Rochester have also granted a parishioners a dispensation from their obligation to attend Mass.

To Labat, the church must focus on older parishioners who could already be facing isolation and others who might question God during this difficult time. He said people need to be reassured that they are still spiritually connected and pray for each other, doing what they can by making a phone call, or establishing contact in other ways. Church staff have been using the Zoom app mid-day to pray together.

“In spite of the stay-at-home order of the governor and just our needing to abide by that, we still need to maintain contact with family and friends and our faith community,” Labat said. “And we are encouraging our parishioners to make a point of going out of our way to call people, just to touch base with them.”

Despite the hectic current state of affairs, Labat believes there will be better days.

“We will be stronger, and I think as much as you don’t want to go through difficult times or struggles, it does strengthen a person, it does strengthen a community,” he said.

Parishioners raise more than $28,000 for those in need

Parishioners at The Church of St. Dominic in Northfield have raised more than $28,000 to loan those needing help paying for housing or other necessities during the pandemic. Donors are aware there is no guarantee they’ll get their money back. Borrowers do so with no expectation of repayment.

“If they can, fine,” said the church’s parochial administrator, the Rev. Bob Hart. “If they cannot, we understand.”

The church livestreams daily Mass at 10 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and continues recording Saturday evening services. Hart added he has heard a lot of appreciative comments from community members regarding their online services.

To Hart, having faith in Christ is essential in these times.

“It’s kind of what’s going to keep them all sane,” he said. “It would be easy to step away from what’s important, because there’s so many distractions. That’s the one thing that people can be assured of.”

Hart shares that faith deeply.

“As people of faith and a community and country, we’re going to come out stronger,” he said. “We just don’t know what’s going to come out on the other side.”

Showing unity, area communities pick up on viral trends

Although local communities of Kenyon and West Concord are a quieter these days, with residents staying home and following social distancing orders, some residents have let their creativity shine as a way to show solidarity within the community.

At the Cline household, they made hearts to put in the window and went around their neighborhood looking for more hearts. Pictured is 4-year-old Jaxson Cline next to the hearts he made and decorated in the window. They also went on a bear hunt, pictured in the bottom left corner are the bears they put out for others to hunt for. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Cline)

Anyone driving through neighborhoods or taking a walk to enjoy some fresh air may notice different objects in some people’s windows, from hearts to teddy bears.

Many residents picked up on viral trends shared on social media sites. Mandy Gill of Bismarck, North Dakota, started the #aworldofhearts Facebook page as a way to show support from home without coming into contact with others. On the page, she encourages other to make paper hearts to put in their windows.

Rachel Cline, Kenyon-Wanamingo Middle School teacher, and her 4-year-old son Jaxson not only made hearts for their window, but went around their neighborhood looking for others who have participated. Rachel says Jaxson cut out the hearts and decorated their window himself.

Sara Quam says her children Madison Quam, 8, Mason, 6 and Emma, 1, made a rainbow of hearts, complete with a sun and clouds. The Quam children let their creativity shine through filling their windows up with decorations featuring not only hearts, but also stars and a moon.

A unique characteristic of the World of Hearts is that anyone no matter their age, can participate.

Donna Fitzgerald says her mother, West Concord resident and alumni of Kenyon LaMae Erler, shows support to all by placing hearts on her window.

Another popular trend encourages parents/caregivers to take their children on a bear hunt.

West Concord resident LaMae Erler stands next to her window of hearts and holds a teddy bear to put in her window, showing her support to all. (Photo courtesy of Donna Fitzgerald)

The hunt is based on the popular book “Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen. Residents were encouraged to place a teddy bear in their window or on their front porch to be seen by those who might be out for a neighborhood walk or a car ride around the neighborhood.

Cline says she and her children also participated in the bear hunt, noting that there were many at one point along Trondheim Road. Several businesses, including the Kenyon Public Library and Security State Bank of Kenyon participated by placing teddy bears in their windows.

Another activity that may be in store for local communities in lieu of the upcoming Easter celebration is an Easter egg hunt that follows the same guidelines as the bear hunt.

Nick Myran was one of eight seniors for the Knights. (Kenyon Leader File Photo)

Friends of West Concord is working with local businesses and residents to upgrade Memorial Park. Pictured is future plan of the predicted updates. (Photo courtesy of city of West Concord)

Stuck at home: Local health experts encourage staying active, healthy eating

Due to the combination of social distancing and the temporary closures of public gathering areas, like gyms, people have been left to think of creative ways to stay connected while still achieving their desired fitness goals.

For many area gyms where group exercises are meant to help boost motivation and encourage participants to have fun, helping their clients enrich those feelings has been challenging.

Workout 24/7 Kenyon and Wanamingo Fitness Facility manager Tina Leininger says staff at both Workout 24/7 and Personal Training with KT are doing their best to keep gym members, personal training clients, FitCamp and yoga participants active and healthy during a rather unpredictable time.

FitCamp, a group that meets early Mondays and Wednesdays, continues to meet online, will only a few dumbbells as necessary materials. Leininger says her FitCamp group has set a goal of walking or jogging 800 miles as a group in April. Each day, participants login to a Google spreadsheet to record their miles for the day. As of April 3, Leininger says they are off to a “fantastic” start with totals reaching 77.93 miles in just two days.

Yoga with Skylee continues to meet virtually Monday evenings. Leininger reports Skylee’s clients have enjoyed being able to keep up with their routine in their homes.

“I am also posting at home workouts on our Facebook pages and messaging clients privately to check-in and give them home programs,” said Leininger.

Although many classes had to make the switch to a virtual platform, that’s not the case for all, like personal training sessions. Leininger says one-on-one Skype personal training sessions were an option for clients before COVID-19, so it was an easy transition to add more clients into the mix.

“I encourage everyone to be active. Take a walk, play catch with your kiddos,” said Leininger. “Even five minutes of activity can boost your mood. Who knows, maybe five minutes will turn into 30 minutes. Most importantly don’t be so hard on yourself if you have a bad day. Tomorrow’s a new day and a new start. Health and peace.”

Sheila Rolling, owner of the family-oriented workout facility, Fit for Life in Faribault has posted daily workouts on her facility’s Facebook page, while still incorporating opportunities for all ages to join in, nothing that typically people ages 15 to 95 years old are known to workout in her facility. Just recently Rolling posted a video of a group workout on her page, hoping participants will enjoy the feeling of being in a class again. She also recommends people explore remote options for working with others like Zoom, which gives people access to video and audio conferencing, to use as a resource for people to exercise together.

Sheila Rolling, owner of Fit for Life in Faribault, helps encourage people to stay active, while practicing social distance, by posting workout videos on Fit for Life’s Facebook page.

“I’m really just trying to include all levels of fitness in there,” said Rolling. “Exercise is the number one way to reduce stress, and it can also reduce panic, fear and anxiety. Even a 10 to 15 minute workout can change the way people are thinking.”

Philip Campbell, physical education, health, developmental adapted physical education and AVID teacher at Tri-City United School District (Montgomery, Lonsdale and Le Center) develops daily workouts suitable for both kids and grownups that require minimal space and equipment. Each day, he aims to post a video of a workout than can be completed in 20 to 30 minutes, complete with exercises and a health education piece toward the end.

The idea began in the early March, once he learned that many businesses, schools and restaurants were going to close. The first workout was posted on Campbell’s Youtube channel and Facebook page, “Daily Workouts For Kids” March 16. The workout videos have been well received, with people from different countries like Argentina and Australia are among the 2,000 members of the group tuning in on Facebook.

Even though many viewers have messaged Campbell, thanking him for posting the videos, he says his intention is to help others.

“We’re all cooped up inside,” said Campbell of his efforts. “It’s a good way to burn energy.”

At the end of the videos, Campbell includes an education piece whether it be suggesting certain types of nutrition to help boost the immune system or incorporating lessons about kindness, as a way to “normalize” what is going on. Recently, the videos included a joke to keep viewers laughing. Campbell says he has also been getting a lot of ideas from TCU’s Physical Education Department. The workouts are just one of many resources students have access to following the beginning of distance learning March 30.

Unique to the videos are Campbell’s children, 9-year-old Kailey, soon to be 8-year-old Blake and 2-year-old William. Campbell says Blake enjoys being active and frequently participates in the videos. His youngest William, enjoys making small guest appearances.

Campbell makes sure his audience knows the workouts aren’t about keeping perfect rhythm.

“It’s about moving the body, parents doing them with their kids to push to help keep it going,” said Campbell. “Once closures have been lifted, I look forward to continuing it.”

He encourages everyone to continue practicing the rules of social distancing and joining community groups on social media, such as his daily workout group, adding that it’s a good way to stay a part of things.

Healthy eating at home

Since many people across the country have transitioned from an active job to a less active role at home, Rolling encourages people to closely monitor what foods they are eating.

“People don’t think about the amount of activity they were doing as opposed to what they are doing now,” she said. “While still eating the same amount of food they typically would.”

Campbell recommends creating a schedule and to incorporate things like a snack, activity and study time. Many times when kids claim they are hungry after just eating, they are actually just bored, she said..

“If you can do some type of fruit or vegetable other than a more unhealthy option,” said Campbell. “It’s all about what options we give them, instead of asking them if they want an apple or chips, instead ask,’Do you want carrots or an apple this time?’

Debra Silverman, a Mayo Clinic dietician, offers several nutrition tips to keep in mind.

Silverman’s first tip is to think about your family and a new routine when grocery shopping for two weeks out.

“You may have kids eating lunch at home now, so you might want to have things like extra peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches,” said Silverman. “Or flour and sugar, for example, if you’re planning a baking project with your kids.”

When shopping, Silverman noted that certain foods can be stored in the freezer to use later for a healthy snack.

“If you find ripe berries in the store, you can freeze those for later use,” said Silverman. “You can freeze bananas and you can use those for protein fruit smoothies later on.”

Amy Elliott, family doctor and medical director at District One Hospital in Faribault, recommends healthy snacks. She says it’s easy to cut up fresh fruits and vegetables and put them in the fridge so they are easily accessible. Another good choice would be to drink water, she said, adding that it helps a person feel full and avoid drinking beverages filled with calories.

“I’m a big fan of cooking a large batch of brown rice and putting it in different containers into the freezer to have for later,” said Elliot. “It comes in handy in times like these when you are busy working from home, while the kids are doing distance learning and the dog is wanting to go for a walk.”

She also encourages families to cook together and incorporate science and math lessons into cooking/baking time.