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Native North Dakota Clergy Work to Minister During Pandemic

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Around this time last year, the lives of two men would change and this was before the pandemic. One would return from Europe to North Dakota, the other would be asked to move to Montana.

One would get what could be considered a promotion, the other would take his place.
If there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that both have had to minister in a time of unprecedented crisis.

“It’s taking its toll, ” Bishop Austin Vetter of the Diocese of Helena, MT said. “I know a lot of people are struggling,” Very Rev. Joshua Ehli, Rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit said.

And you don’t have to be a believer to know that.

Nonetheless, it’ll soon be one year for North Dakota natives Bishop Austin Vetter and Father Joshua Ehli in their new jobs. In October 2019, the then Father Vetter learned he’d been named Bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana. Father Ehli would be asked to return from working in Rome and take the soon-to-be Bishop Vetter’s place at the cathedral, overseeing the day-to-day happenings; something they both found unlikely.

“That someday he would be a bishop and I’d be replacing him at the cathedral, I’d think, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ I was a high school student here at St. Mary’s, not in a million years,” Fr. Ehli said.

“I taught him when he was a senior in high school. We’ve known each other for a long time,” Bishop Vetter said.

Something also unlikely was the fact that they found themselves just a few months into their new roles ministering during a pandemic, with Fr. Ehli himself recovering from the coronavirus.

“My first several days, maybe the first week, it was hard to think: ‘What if I got someone sick?’ And that’s why it’s good to take the necessary precautions,” Ehli said.

Masses were suspended in both dioceses for a few months. Since reopening though, not all of the faithful have walked through the doors. That’s caused both men and their staff to have had to think outside of the church walls to help parishioners keep the faith.

“We’ve been trying to be creative with online as much as we can, live-streaming Masses, Friday videos on different topics,” Vetter said.

“We’ve now actively entered social media: live-streaming Masses,” Ehli said.

Of course, not everyone who’s suffered from the coronavirus is catholic or even a believer.
For them, both men offer some advice.

“Stay connected with people and not just through technology. I mean, that’s something, but it’s not the same as person to person,” Vetter said. “Give God a chance. These pandemics are perfect times to remind us that our peace and our joy doesn’t come from worldly things,” Ehli said.

Both say they’re praying that the spread of the coronavirus ends and only the spread of the good news continues.

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