MURRAY — In the wake of growing concerns about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), some churches in the area have addressed the issue, and most are continuing services as usual.
Responses have varied across the state, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has asked various public institutions to take appropriate precautions. This also included a plea to the faith-based community to limit services while the outbreak is being monitored.
In a press release issued on March 11 from the Governor’s Office, Beshear said he knows asking houses of worship to cancel services is a big step and some will disagree. He and Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH), said they are urging this action because of the close proximity to others in houses of worship, the communal activities and close interaction, and because many attendees are members of high-risk populations.
“I believe God gives us wisdom to protect each other and we should do that. I believe that it is our job to offer those protections,” Gov. Beshear said in the release.
So far the Ledger & Times has been notified of only one church closure in Calloway County, at New Mt. Caramel Baptist Church. First Presbyterian Church of Murray announced on its Facebook page Thursday that is canceling its services this weekend.
“To help prevent community spread of Coronavirus, FPC Murray will not be having worship service or Sunday school beginning this Sunday, March 15,” the post reads. “We plan to upload a reflection/homily from Pastor Renee that you will be able to watch this weekend, in lieu of worship. We will decide weekly about future services, so please stay tuned and please stay healthy.”
Other churches have used social media to inform their congregations of any changes that may be made in regard to services. In a letter posted on the Facebook page of Murray First United Methodist Church, pastor Jeff Rudy told congregation members that services will still be held Sunday, but that members should take precautions if they attend.
“I’ve reached out to our church leaders about appropriate avenues of response at Murray First. After consulting with them, there is a consensus about our plan for now and we wish to communicate that to you. We are aware of the public concern of the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and are genuine in our desire to take it seriously,” Rudy wrote. “A large part of the concern with church services has to do with the length of time people are in close proximity of others as well as to ensure the best care for those who are most vulnerable, which has been demonstrated in America and abroad as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It is our aim to employ wise precautions to mitigate the potential spread of illnesses such as COVID-19, the flu, etc.”
The letter asks any experiencing any potential symptoms to stay home, in addition to those who are members of more vulnerable populations. The letter also asks those who plan to attend to refrain from making physical contact with other members of the congregation, including refraining shaking hands or hugging, and maintaining as much distance from others as possible. The letter also said that church staff will work diligently to disinfect and clean the sanctuary after services, and asked that church members refrain from using hymnals and rely on projected song materials.
The University Church of Christ made a similar post to its Facebook page, saying that a Wednesday meal would be suspended, but that services would still continue.
“The next few days and weeks will likely bring more changes that further impact our daily lives, however, at this time we do not see the need to cancel any of our weekly gatherings, with the exception of our Wednesday night meals,” the post reads. “We will let you know when the Wednesday night meals will once again be available. In the meantime, we want you to know we are monitoring the situation and are committed to doing what we can to protect our church family and help prevent the spread of this virus.”
The post said that the church was encouraging members to avoid contact with members outside of family. The church also said in the post it would be working to make sure all toys in the children’s areas are disinfected, and encouraged parents to stay home with their kids if they have any potential symptoms. The church was also asking members of more vulnerable populations to avoid services as well.