COVID-19Sunday Assembly

Marshalltown parish holds reopening Mass outdoors, plans to continue practice

MARSHALLTOWN — As the state continues to reopen, many are changing the way they operate to protect against the coronavirus. Among these are Marshalltown churches, who are working hard to keep their congregations safe.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish is swapping pews for lawn chairs with their new plan for services. The parish began holding outdoor Mass on May 31 in the field by St. Henry Church.

[swpm_protected]Father Alan Dietzenbach, pastor of the parish said the idea to have Mass outside formed when leadership began considering how to return to services safely.

“As were transitioning back to the ‘new normal’ we were brainstorming – how do we best keep people safe while giving them a dynamic experience of community?” he said.

Father Dietzenbach said they would face many challenges if they were to move back inside. The parish would need twice as many services, ministers and ushers in order to social distance. It would also be difficult to keep up with all the disinfecting of pews, bathrooms, door handles and other surfaces.

According to Father Dietzenbach, using the space outside eliminated these problems.

“Fortunately we have this big beautiful field at our St. Henry campus. By having it outside, we could have all English speakers at the same service at 8:30 a.m. and Spanish speakers together shortly after at 10:30 a.m. to show we are all in this together as one community,” he said.

While physically distancing from others is still necessary, it is as important as ever for people to feel connected to their communities.

Members of the congregation bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on during the service. When they arrive, they are greeted by a hospitality minister wearing a mask and gloves. This greeter gives them a bulletin and directs them to another hospitality minister on the field. Each family gets their own spray-painted circle in the field, where they stay throughout the mass.

Father Dietzenbach said the outdoor Masses have been a success, and many are attending.

“We have had great attendance. Some people were cautious at first, but as the word gets out about how it works, people are getting more open to checking it out. There are about 300 people at each of the services,” he said.

While the services are going well, there were many changes that had to be made for it to work. Communion is now brought to attendees instead of them forming a line, and the parish has gotten many more hospitality ministers to greet and direct people. Figuring out how to livestream the services on YouTube was also a new challenge.

For those who cannot make it to the services or are continuing to social distance, they can be accessed live on YouTube through a link on St. Francis’ Facebook page. Masses will be broadcast on KCRM 96.7FM at 8:30 a.m. in English and KDNH 101.5FM at 10:30 a.m. in Spanish.

Despite the challenges of being outside, Father Dietzenbach noted it is a great environment for the sermons.

“The first week it was moving to hear about the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles while feeling the wind blow and hearing the birds sing as we read about God’s creatures in the psalms,” he said.

Shearer is a staff writer for the Times-Republican newspaper of Marshalltown. This article originally appeared in that publication and is being republished in The Witness with permission. Minor edits were made by The Witness to conform the article with Catholic News Service style guidelines.

Parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Parish gather for Mass in an open field near St. Henry Church May 31. Several hundred people attended the reopening Masses that weekend, the first since March, when churches stopped offering public liturgies because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Carrie Seberger)