Social distancing recommended for coronavirus — but what about church?

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Church in a national emergency

Sunday, church day for many, is quickly approaching, and some people are wondering if it’s OK to attend a church service under a declared state of emergency in both Missouri and the United States.

Both Missouri Governor Mike Parson and U.S. President Donald Trump have passed emergency declarations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Parson’s declaration followed a presumptive positive test for COVID-19, the disease associated with coronavirus, in Greene County, Webster County’s western neighbor.

People are encouraged to take a number of precautions to keep from getting or spreading the disease; among these are frequent hand-washing and social distancing.

Terre Banks, administrator of the Webster County Health Unit, explained that social distancing means avoiding unnecessary exposure to others by staying at home when possible and avoiding large gatherings — like church services.

So, should we take a break from church?

“That’s a delicate topic to cover,” Banks said in an interview Friday, “but it needs to be suggested.”

Church is a place where people find comfort and friendship, said Banks, a churchgoer herself.

“It’s hard for people not to go because that’s where they  have relationships, friendship; it’s a place to go to get refreshed and revived.”

But Banks suggests that churches find a way to provide services remotely. Pastors can record their services alone in the church through Facebook Live, live streaming or posted videos.

“Church members need to be wise. Pastors need to be wise,” Banks said. “If church is going on, they’re going to be there. Through ice, snow, heat, whatever, people will go to church.”

Ideally, to preserve the health of parishioners, pastors would suspend services until the threat of virus exposure has passed.

“If pastors will voluntarily support suspending church services, their members will follow,” Banks said.

For the time being, Banks suggests suspending all unnecessary meetings, including those of clubs and civic groups.

“Cancel meetings if they’re non-essential,” she said simply.

Bishop Edward M. Rice of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, which includes Webster County, issued a statement Friday outlining diocese directives during the state of emergency. He offered a general dispensation to anyone in the diocese who does not want to take the risk of attending mass, regardless of age.

Bishop Rice directed anyone 60 years of age or older or with underlying medical issues not to attend mass, and anyone who is “not feeling well, no matter how mild the symptoms” should also avoid mass and is dispensed from the obligation to do so.

Bishop Rice directed the faithful to avoid physical contact if they do attend mass, and he added that priests should “limit music and preaching so as not to prolong the gathering.”

All non-liturgical events should be canceled, Bishop Rice stated.

The Mail has not received word of any church services being canceled during this state of emergency, but churchgoers might benefit from checking their church’s website before heading out in case of any late developments.

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