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Catholic church offers curbside confessions during coronavirus outbreak

Father Michael Izen says he saw the idea on Facebook and tried it out--not knowing it'd be a big hit in Stillwater.

STILLWATER, Minn. — Drive-thrus, curbside pick-up, contactless methods. We're becoming best buds with terms like these as we try our best to stay home, and flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, today, we're not talking about food or restaurants. We're talking about faith.

Fifteen years of priesthood have yet to bring anything like this to Father Michael Izen, of St. Mary's and St. Michael's Catholic Churches in Stillwater.

"As a priest I still celebrate mass everyday but I'm by myself, so there's a big difference," Izen said.

With coronavirus best practices encouraging people to stay home, Izen said his church is adapting too.

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"[We] live-streamed on Facebook for the first time ever in a mass on Sunday," Izen said. "So we're putting our energies on other things now."

As the pews sit empty, the confessional does too. However, Father Izen explained that the Sacrament of Penance was one he could take outside.
Specifically, to the church parking lot-- more specifically, drive-thru style, six feet apart.

Right where the two lots connect, Izen said he sets up a folding lawn chair under a tree. He said he also sits behind two traffic cones to make sure the car and ultimately the driver, is six feet away from him. Then, the cars pull up.

"The first one was amazing, it was a middle-aged woman in her mini-van, [she] made her confession, and she got done and she stepped out of the car," he said. "I'm thinking, 'oh this isn't part of it,' and she looks at me and goes, we have more in the next vehicle."

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Izen said she then jumped into the car behind hers as her son hopped into her car to confess. Once he was finished, the woman hopped back into her car and drove off with her son, while her daughter, who was in the car behind hers, pulled up to Father Izen for her turn.

Just like that, curbside confessions were happening. Father Izen said he was inspired by social media.

"I think I saw it on Twitter or Facebook," he said. "A Southern diocese was doing it earlier last week and Father Powers, my associate, he was like, 'that sounds great!' At first I was like, 'uh...that's not the most reverent thing,' but its worked out well."

Izen said he's not surprised to see people eager to participate.

"It's our worship you know, it's what we love," he said, "For anyone who comes every Sunday, some come everyday and we have daily mass that we had to suspend...so no, I'm not surprised that that they're taking it hard. Just kind of humbled that I see they're taking it harder than I am. I should be maybe holier than I am."

Faith has many names. Routine, comfort, joy-- whatever you want to call it--in times like these, faith's role as hope shines the brightest.

"Not being able to give daily mass to people, it's one thing we can do," Izen said. "Confession is always edifying in a sense that it's humbling. These people who come here, hungry for God's mercy and thanks be to God, able to use me to give that mercy."

Izen said he hears confessions daily at 5 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

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