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Downtown Churches See Challenges, Opportunities as Super Bowl Week Approaches

Super Bowl LII presents both challenges and opportunities for nearby churches in downtown Minneapolis. Photo: KSTP/Frank Rajkowski
Super Bowl LII presents both challenges and opportunities for nearby churches in downtown Minneapolis.

January 25, 2018 02:38 PM

Super Bowl LII is expected to draw huge crowds into downtown Minneapolis, and the accompanying road closures, security considerations and parking demands are posing challenges for churches located in the area.

Especially those in close proximity to U.S. Bank Stadium or other sites hosting Super Bowl events.

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But, church leaders say it all presents opportunities as well.

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"I think if we didn't see it that way, it probably would just be a hassle," said Paul Poteat, the pastoral director at Bethlehem Baptist Church, located only blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium and just outside the security perimeter that will be established around the facility leading up to the big game on Feb. 4.

"There are going to be days that week when traffic will be gridlocked, and it would be easy to get frustrated unless we see it as an amazing opportunity - both for our city and our church," he said.

To that end, Bethlehem Baptist, which usually holds services at 9 and 11 a.m. on Sundays, plans to hold just one short service at 11 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.

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Following that, the church will host a free meal featuring brats and other items. All are welcome, including fans in town to root for either the Philadelphia Eagles or New England Patriots.

"Throughout the week, we'll have volunteers going out to distribute flyers at different Super Bowl events to spread the word about what we have going on," Poteat said. "We have sandwich boards, and we'll have a few of those set up too." 

He added, "We look at it as an opportunity to serve and bless people at our church, and people who will be out around the stadium. People from both in-and-out-of-town."

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The church has its own parking lot, but relies on additional lots as well. Those lots won't be available that Sunday.

Poteat said those who don't expect to find parking are encouraged to attend service that weekend at either Bethlehem's north campus in Mounds View Saturday night, or its south campus, which meets at Lakeville South High School, Sunday morning.

He said on any given Sunday, around 2,000 or more attend services at the downtown church, but he has no idea what to expect on the day of the Super Bowl - either at the service or the free meal.

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The meal could be held in the church's parking lot if weather is warm, though it will likely be moved inside if temperatures are colder.

"We're hoping people might be hungry and want to hang out for a bit," Poteat said. "Maybe some will only stay for a few minutes and get something to eat or warm up. Others may go to church someplace else and want the opportunity to talk a little more with us about what we do here."

Staging area at First Covenant

First Covenant Church is located even closer to U.S. Bank Stadium, inside the security perimeter, and the church has partnered with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.

The committee leased a big part of the church's parking lot, where they have set up a large tent.

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Lead pastor Dan Collison said the church's 80,000-square-foot building has also been used as a training center for Super Bowl staff and volunteers.

"I think we've had around 4,000 people trained in our building this month alone," he said.

First Covenant will also be used as a staging area for Super Bowl staff during the week leading up to the game. However, Collison said neither church staff, nor the nonprofits that the building houses, are expected to be impacted too dramatically.

The one exception is the overnight homeless shelter, used by around 50 to 60 people per night. That will temporarily move several blocks away to St. Olaf Catholic Church, located outside the security perimeter from Thursday night to Sunday night.

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The Super Bowl host committee will cover all expenses required to make the switch.

"Having St. Olaf available as an alternate location was ideal," Collison said. "Many of our guests already check in there and are familiar with it."

Because the building will be inaccessible from Friday night through Monday morning,  the church also accepted an invitation from St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral on Loring Park to join in services there on Super Bowl Sunday.

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"The first time the Super Bowl was here (in January of 1992 at the Metrodome, which stood on the current site of U.S. Bank Stadium), our church building was used as a staging area as well," Collison said. "And four years ago, the host committee approached us to ask if we'd be willing to partner with them again if they got the bid.

"So we've known what was coming and what to expect."

Sanctuary offered for trafficking victims

Located just across the street from the security zone is Hope Community Church, which plans to partner with Source and the Minneapolis Police Department that week to offer a sanctuary for women impacted by human trafficking. 

The effort, which actually involves about 20 other churches, will provide a safe location with food, clothing and shelter for women after they are dropped off by police, as well as professional counseling for those who want to escape that life. There will also daytime warming center for women experiencing homelessness.

"We can provide space and the money to provide food, but we also wanted to bring in the professionals who know what they're doing and can help these women," ministry associate Rob Warland said.

Warland, whose church will not hold services on Super Bowl Sunday (two services will be held Saturday night at another location in Lowertown St. Paul), said the sanctuary operation will be up-and-running 24-7 from Sunday night through the day after the Super Bowl.

Keeping to the schedule at St. Olaf

Besides serving as the temporary replacement for the homeless shelter at First Covenant, Vicki Klima, the parish director at St. Olaf, said the church plans to maintain a regular schedule Super Bowl week.

That includes keeping to its schedule of masses at 6, 8 and 10 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.

"We'll have mass, and whomever shows up is welcome," she said. "We actually expect we may get a lot of visitors that day. If people staying it hotels downtown decide to go to mass, we're probably the most convenient location."

Parking, of course, will be limited, nd Klima said they will be keeping a close eye on the church's own lot all week.

"We have a very small lot with only 50 spaces," she said. "We have parking agreements with other places around us, but they will all be null on Super Bowl Sunday; so there's no doubt parking is going to be our biggest challenge that day."

A showcase at Westminster Presbyterian

Westminster Presbyterian Church, meanwhile, is located on the Nicollet Mall, which will be hosting Super Bowl LIVE events all week.

That provides the church a chance to showcase a just-completed new addition.

"We're kind of at ground zero for everything but the game," said Westminster's lead pastor Tim Hart-Andersen. "On one side of us, the NFL Experience is going on at the Convention Center. And on the other side is Super Bowl LIVE.

"We intend to open our doors for the full 10 days leading up to the game," he said. "Our doors will be unlocked and people can come in and get warm. We'll have coffee, tea and cocoa. We'll have sandwiches. We're going to have dozens of volunteers here all day long. Our main goal is to offer hospitality to one and all."

The church will also host an interfaith gathering at 2 p.m. Sunday. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey will serve as emcee and former Vikings Greg Coleman and Mark Mullaney will be among the speakers.

"It will be a mixture of faith and football," Hart-Andersen said. "It's a way of trying to tie it all together."

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Frank Rajkowski

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