Fish house of worship: White Bear Lake priest puts COVID-safe twist on confession

A priest in White Bear Lake has found a way to merge ice fishing and faith.

The Rev. Ralph Talbot of St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church is using an ice fishing shelter on dry land as a socially distanced drive-thru confessional.

"Our sacrament has always been on Saturday mornings," Talbot said. "So the time is not so different. It’s the location that’s a little different."

Parishioners wait in their cars for their turn to confess their sins at the "House of Mercy" — a way for Talbot to stay warm while those of faith maintain a safe distance outdoors.

"It’s a little unusual, but there is still that face-to-face contact that the sacrament requires, so we’re grateful that we’re able to provide it," Talbot said.

The new confession space has been well received thus far.

"It’s important that we do this and we do it often, and so for him to make himself available the way he is during the pandemic, I think it’s extremely important," parishioner Matt Hughes said.

"He has made a big difference for this parish, really brought it out of debt, and really helped a lot of people," Susan Kiesling added.

While the space isn’t a conventional way to confess, Talbot hopes others will see the church’s innovation as much-needed inspiration.

"During this pandemic, I’ve heard it. I’ve experienced it. People are frustrated, people are angry, people are short-tempered, people are impatient. The election, the cultural things, people want to have a place to unload that," Talbot said. "… It’s just been great, where they can just come and say their sins and leave in peace knowing that God has forgiven them."