Where are you going to pray at the Minnesota State Fair?
How about an ecumenical service at Leinie Lodge at 9.15 a.m. on Sunday morning? Or Baldwin Park, at the same time, for Catholics? Evangelical Christians have three time options at Crossroads Chapel.
While nearly all of the churches that once housed popular eateries at the fair have closed, Sunday mornings still offer a cafeteria of worship options. The vibe is decidedly laid-back, but the sentiment is serious – that there’s so much more to life than the next big food on a stick.
“When you attend a big event, it [religion]isn’t always the first thing people think of,” said Matt Mueller of Lakeville, who stopped by Crossroads Chapel on Friday afternoon so his daughter Evelyn could make a necklace with a cross and beads.
But places like Crossroads can “introduce people to God,” he said. “And it’s fun for the kids.”
Church leaders at the State Fair switch gears these Sundays, offering church bulletins on a stick that can be used as hand fans on hot summer days.
Their sermons and services tend to be shorter. Readings and music can be articulated with fair grounds. There are no collection plates.
“And many attendees are eating mini donuts,” said Reverend Leslie Ball, who chairs the ecumenical service.
Crossroads Chapel has been running services for about 65 years, said Julie Curtis, ministry coordinator. The first service, at 7:45 a.m. Sunday, brings in State Fair vendors, people who operate the rides and diehard Fair fans who arrive at dawn, she said.
Later services, at 9 and 11 a.m., attract a wide range of worshippers, she said.
Attendance has remained steady over the years, at around 150 for the last service, she said. But that started to climb after Crossroads moved to a high-traffic area next to carnival rides, she said. As thrill seekers spin on swings suspended from the sky high, the people inside the chapel have their minds on a different kind of higher power.
There have been Catholic Masses at the fair for as long as can be remembered, and they will continue on the Family Fair stage in Baldwin Park at 9.15am on both Sundays of the fair. Attendance has been steady at several hundred people, said Sue Valois, liturgy and music coordinator at Corpus Christi Church in St. Paul, who oversees services.
But being on the outside can be a test of faith.
“Last year it started to rain during Mass, and when the congregation rose for the opening chant, the pews got wet and they couldn’t sit down,” Valois said.
“They got up for the whole mass and held on, giving us all a good laugh,” she said.
Meanwhile, ecumenical services will be held at 9:15 a.m. each Fair Sunday at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell. It’s also a long-standing tradition, said Ball, who keeps the service at around 30 minutes.
People with religious beliefs that involve meditation can head to the meditation tent, between the 4-H building and the education buildings.
Only Crossroads offers religious support seven days a week. It has a chapel, bookstore, and outdoor stage offering Christian entertainment. A box on a table at the main entrance says “Prayer requests,” and people are asking for them, said Doug Peterson, the entertainment coordinator at Crossroads.
“People have a lot going on in their lives, and sometimes it’s not easy to share with family members,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to share with someone who is caring and will listen.”
Connie Grandy stopped by Crossroads this week after spotting the free Bibles at the head table.
“I came here to be inspired,” said Grandy, of Shoreview. “You never know what you’re going to find. Sometimes you need a little [spiritual]reading.”
Looking around at the carnival rides, the cotton candy stand and the endless stream of visitors, she added, “There should be more.”