Where do you go for prayer at the Minnesota State Fair?

How about an ecumenical service at the Leinie Lodge at 9:15 Sunday morning? Or Baldwin Park, same time, for Catholics? Evangelical Christians get three time options at the Crossroads Chapel.

While nearly all the churches that once ran popular eateries at the fair have closed, Sunday morning still offers a cafeteria of worship options. The vibe is decidedly casual, but the sentiment is serious — namely, that there's way more to life than the next big food on a stick.

"When you're at a huge event, it [religion] isn't always the first thing that people think about," 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 venues such as Crossroads can "introduce people to God," he said. "And it's fun for kids."

Religious leaders at the State Fair shift gears on these Sundays, offering church bulletins on a stick that can be used as fans during blistering summer days.

Their sermons and services tend to be shorter. The readings and music can dovetail with fair motifs. There are no collection plates.

"And many attendees are eating mini-doughnuts," said the Rev. Leslie Ball, who presides over the ecumenical service.

Crossroads Chapel has been hosting services for about 65 years, said Julie Curtis, a ministry coordinator. The earliest service, at 7:45 a.m. Sunday, brings in State Fair vendors, folks who operate the rides and the die-hard fair fans who arrive at the crack of dawn, she said.

The later services, at 9 and 11 a.m., bring in a broad mix of the faithful, she said.

Attendance has been steady over the years, at about 150 for the latest service, she said. But it started to climb after Crossroads moved to a higher-traffic area next to the carnival rides, she said. As thrill-seekers twirled on swings dangling from high in the sky, the folks inside the chapel have their minds on a different kind of higher power.

There have been Catholic masses at the fair as long as anyone can remember, and they will continue at the Family Fair Stage at Baldwin Park at 9:15 a.m. both of the fair's Sundays. Attendance has been steady at several hundred people, said Sue Valois, coordinator of liturgy and music at the Church of Corpus Christi in St. Paul, who oversees the services.

But being outdoors can be a test of faith.

"Last year, it started raining during the mass, and when the congregation stood for the opening song, the benches got wet so they couldn't sit back down," said Valois.

"They stood for the whole mass and stuck it out, 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. They're a longtime fair tradition as well, said Ball, who keeps the service at about 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 seven-day-a-week religious support. It has a chapel, a bookstore and an outdoor stage offering Christian entertainment. A box on a table at the front entrance says "Prayer Requests," and people do ask for them, said Doug Peterson, the entertainment coordinator at Crossroads.

"People have a lot of stuff going on in their lives, and sometimes it's not easy to share with family members," he said. "This is an opportunity to share with someone who is caring and who will listen."

Connie Grandy stopped by Crossroads this week after spotting the free Bibles at the front table.

"I came here for inspiration," 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 fairgoers, she added, "There should be more of this."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511