Coronavirus won’t shut churches
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Ray Mobly didn’t have any fear about attending his church on Sunday, while concern mounts about a coronavirus that has gotten worldwide attention.
He was cautious, though, exercising social distance as best he could while attending church.
“I still believe that caution is the best policy,” said Mobly, a deacon at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “However, I don’t believe that I’m at any greater risk at this point than anyone else. I felt comfortable. I don’t have a sense that we need to think we are at great risk. Of course, it is just me.”
Two days earlier, Mobly’s pastor, Rev. RB Holmes, and Rev. Julius H. McAllister, Jr., pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, announced jointly that they will continue services as usual. The two churches are believed to have the largest predominantly Black congregations in Tallahassee.
Both men referenced biblical scriptures and their faith for continuing church services. They also encouraged their members to follow warnings issues by authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control.
State government has been issuing daily updates on the coronavirus. This past Sunday, Florida Department of Health reported 39 new cases. That increased the number of cases to more than 100 and at least four Florida residents died from COVID-19.
Across the country, more than 3,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed. The national death toll has reached more than 50, while more than 6,000 deaths have been reported globally.
As of Monday, no case of COVID 19 has been reported in Tallahassee.
McAllister said keeping churches open is “germane and important.”
“We feel we have a duty, a duty to make sure that our congregants are safe and they do not walk in a spirit of fear,” McAllister added. “We believe. We preach, we proclaim week in and week out that the lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear. We proclaim week in and week out that the lord will make a way somehow.”
Hand-washing is recommended as one of the best ways to prevent spread of the disease along with using hand sanitizer. However, while there is no cure for coronavirus, Holmes said believers in a higher power shouldn’t be fearful.
Col. Ronald Joe, a member of Bethel Baptist, said he felt grateful to have a place to worship while the country is coping with containing the virus.
“It’s very reassuring,” Joe said. “I think for people of faith, and I consider myself one, that it is reassuring and it gives you a good feeling of survival and enough comfort to worship. I’m glad that church is being made available.”
The two ministers held the press conference at a time when several places of public gathering are being shuttered. Both FAMU and FSU along with TCC have suspended face-to-face classes for at least two weeks.
Several businesses, including Wal-Mart, have also cut back on their hours of operation.
However, Holmes was steadfast in reminding church-goers they shouldn’t be fearful.
“Our faith teaches us to fear not, faint not, fret not and forget not the power of our lord,” Holmes said. “We must worship. We must not panic during this crisis of the coronavirus.
“In a time such as this, we must adhere to the protocol of the CDC and demonstrate good hygiene practices. We will respect the guidelines of the CDC and we encourage our members to implement them.”
Holmes used the press conference to also announce an “Operation Love” campaign to assist senior citizens during the national crisis. The initiative that involves multiple churches is a coalition that’s formed in conjunction with Eldercare Services.
Likely beneficiaries are residents of Bethel Towers, owned by Bethel Baptist. That building has undergone a major cleaning, as did Bethel Christian Academy, Holmes said.
Bethel AME also owns several homes in Tallahassee. The tenants have been informed to follow the CDC guidelines, McAllister said.
Mobly reiterated McAllister’s sentiment as it relates to church-going.
“We need to take those measures that they are advocating for us seriously,” he said. “However, for me we don’t need to feel like it’s a dire situation.”