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Church plans for distanced Easter services as statewide mask mandate ends

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Grace Lutheran Church Cross
A cross at Grace Lutheran Church in Dodgeville.

DODGEVILLE (WKOW) -- For several months, Mark Williamson has been preaching to a camera lens and watching as his congregation livestreams his sermons. But with Easter approaching, he planned to do something different for the holiday.

"We decided that we would have worship in the parking lot," he said.

Williamson is the lead pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Dodgeville. On Sunday, the church is hosting a sunrise service in the parking lot, livestreaming a service at 9 a.m. and holding another parking lot service at 10:30 a.m.

"We'll use our FM transmitter if people want to stay in their vehicles," he said. "By the 10:30 service outside, I think we'll have people sitting outside in chairs."

This will be the first service after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the statewide mask mandate, but Williamson said he's not concerned about his congregants following public health measures.

"In the past, they've done everything that we've asked of them when we have met outside for worship," he said. "They've worn face coverings, like, 100% compliance. They sat six feet apart by households."

Williamson said he's expecting everything to be similar on Sunday. That's good news, according to Iowa County Emergency Management Director Keith Hurlbert.

He told 27 News Iowa County will not be implementing its own mask mandate.

"We don't have an ordinance in place that allows that kind of thing," he said. "So, we're going to continue what we've been doing for the past year, and that is encouraging people to consider the safety of themselves as well as others on a regular basis and wear a mask."

Even though the county isn't requiring masks, Williamson said his church will when it resumes indoor worship on April 11.

"My hope is that our greeters and ushers don't have to become enforcers, you know, where they become kind of like bouncers," he said. "We hope that people will do that on their own."

He said the service will be capped at 50 people in order to mitigate risk and maintain social distancing.

"As we start to get back together again, we're not going to ignore all of those recommendations overnight," he said. "We can welcome people back gradually."

Even as Williamson eagerly awaits seeing people in pews again, he knows worship still has a long way to go before it feels like it did before the pandemic.

"Even if you can get inside your sanctuary and you're wearing that mask, if you're not singing, it doesn't quite feel normal yet," he said. "I'm hoping that we can shake hands, exchange signs of peace, embrace each other. That's the kind of stuff that it's been a long, long time, and we want to get back to it."

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Caroline Dade

Reporter/Multimedia Journalist, 27 News

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