Nebraska Faith Leaders Describe Challenges of Ministry During a Pandemic

June 11, 2020, 6:45 a.m. ·

St. Mark's Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Nebraska.

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Centers of worship are often a source of support for a community, but they were shut down along with other gatherings in the state. Although the state has now allowed them to reopen under certain restrictions, many have made the decision to remain closed out of caution. The work of ministry has changed significantly, as these two faith leaders describe.

"My name is Steven Neal. I'm the pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church here in St. Paul Nebraska.

Steven Neal is Pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Nebraska.

I'm pretty sure just about every pastor across the country has seen our job changed tremendously over the last few months. The most obvious being that our buildings have been closed, and that our pews have been empty.

We're not opening our home to visitors. Most of the time if somebody comes by they'll stay in the car, and I'll stand, you know, six, 10,15 feet away and almost kind of shout to hear each other. We still have very intimate, very personal, very vulnerable conversations and prayers together, but with our voices raised and trying to be sure that we can be heard over any of the cars or trucks that are that are driving by.

Every evening at around eight o'clock I venture out to the front of the church with my daughters, and we bring the church bell. And we ring the church bell to let our community know that the church is here for them that we are here for them, that God is always with them."

"My name is Cantor Joanna Alexander. I'm the cantor at Temple Israel of Omaha, which is on the Tri-Faith Campus.

In many ways, it takes courage as a participant to sit at home by yourself, maybe with your cat or your dog on your lap and say, 'This is a prayer I'm supposed to stand up for, I'm going to stand up and I'm going to sing it out loud to the nobody or to the somebody in my house.' That is an act of courage that not everybody feels comfortable doing.

I think some of the things I've struggled with are really the bringing comfort to people in a time of sorrow. So somebody who is bereaved where you can't be in the room with them, you can't give them a hug you can't do the normal gathering rituals.

And I hope that I'm able to come to the understanding that what we did was enough, and to help everybody else feel that what they did was enough because we really didn't have another choice."

This story is part of a special episode of Speaking of Nebraska that features the stories of Nebraskans impacted by COVID-19. The episode also includes a discussion about recent protests in Nebraska and across the world concerning police violence and systemic racism. Watch the full program online at