BY SHERRY HAMILTON
A number of religious denominations in Virginia have announced the cancellation of Sunday worship services statewide in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Local Baptist churches have provided information about their response, as well.
The Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church issued a letter from Bishop Sharma D. Lewis on Friday directing all Virginia Conference churches to cancel worship services for the next two Sundays, March 15 and 22. The bishop also strongly urged churches to postpone any large gatherings they had planned.
“Public health officials have shared that with an abundance of caution we can help slow the spread of disease by practicing social distancing,” said Lewis.
She said there are tips on the conference website on how to livestream or record services, and she asked that people pray for “the most vulnerable in our communities as well as those suffering from COVID-19 and their families.” She asked for prayers for leaders and health care professionals worldwide as they deal with the pandemic, and she urged people to use best practices when it comes to handwashing and avoiding touching the face.
The Rev. Dede Parrish of St. Paul and Beulah United Methodist churches said there would be no services, meetings, or dinners at the church through Sunday, March 22.
Latter Day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has suspended all public gatherings of church members worldwide until further notice.
According to a press release from The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared with the Gazette-Journal by Bishop Ed Reams of the church’s Gloucester Ward, the church “considered the counsel of local church leaders, government officials and medical professionals, and sought the Lord’s guidance” prior to making the decision.
The temporary suspension of services includes stake conferences, leadership conferences and other large gatherings, public worship services, including sacrament meetings, and branch, ward and stake activities.
Leaders were told to conduct essential leadership meetings via technology, and bishops were advised to counsel with their stake president to determine how to make the sacrament available to members at least once a month.
“We encourage members in their ministering efforts to care for one another,” said the letter. “We should follow the Savior’s example to bless and lift others.”
Episcopal churches in Gloucester and Mathews have cancelled on-site worship services for the next two weeks in response to a directive from the Diocese of Virginia.
In a letter to parishes across the state, Bishop Susan E. Goff said that churches could remain open and church staff could go to work, but that there would be no physical gatherings for worship.
The Coronavirus is now a pandemic, said Goff, “and we are responsible for one another, especially for the most vulnerable among us.” Mathematical models show the virus spreading exponentially, she said, and while the spread can’t be stopped, it can be slowed, helping to ensure that the health care system remains effective.
“Social distancing is our best means of slowing the spread,” she said, adding that the Diocese of Washington had made the same decision.
The diocese will be sharing resources with churches to enable virtual worship for churches of all sizes, she said. As the end of the two weeks approaches, a decision will be made about whether to suspend further services and activities.
Abingdon Episcopal Church and Kingston Episcopal Parish have additionally suspended all public gatherings and will, as much as possible, provide worship opportunities online.
Parish offices will remain open for now.
Union Baptist Church in Hayes has cancelled all services for the next two weeks. Pastor Jared Berry will livestream a message at 11 a.m. each Sunday on his Facebook page, said a post on Facebook.
“Due to new information, the church has concluded that it would be unwise to continue doing services in a public setting, given the current environment,” said the post.
Those who will need assistance if the virus situation gets worse should contact the church to be put on a list, said the post.
Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church has no plans to cancel services unless there are “real manifestations of a local problem.” Ed Jordan, pastor, said in an email that the church isn’t a large gathering. He said a health note would go in the church’s bulletin asking people with a high fever to stay home and consult their doctors.
Shepherdsville Baptist Church in Ark has postponed all church activities and gatherings, including Sunday Service and Tuesday afternoon Bible Study, until further notice, said Betty Carter, head of the church’s Missionary Board. A post on the church’s website said, “The health and safety or our members and community are a high priority for us.”
A Sunday morning prayer and song will be offered at 11 a.m. through the church’s conference call service. The number to call is 712-770-4112. The access code is 876749#.
First Baptist Church, Ordinary has suspended all group gatherings in the church, including worship service, until Palm Sunday on April 5 “rather than risk the health of our congregants.” The Rev. Ward Warren said as the situation unfolds, there may be updates and further action could be taken. Church members will be receiving emails about how to call in on conference calls for Bible study, he said.
The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which governs churches in central and southern Virginia, has suspended all masses until further notice. Confirmation liturgies are suspended, and all non-essential meetings are canceled. All weddings and funerals should limit attendance to close family only. Pastoral care for the sick will continue.
The news came from Bishop Barry C. Knestout, who stated in the press release, “As shepherd, I must balance the health and wellbeing of the community, ensuring we are cooperating with the common good, with continuing with the mission of our church.” Knestout will livestream private celebration of Sunday masses for the foreseeable future.