COVID-19 plea

Ministers take lead in call for social distance in churches

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Chairman of Leon County Commission, Bryan Desloge, couldn’t have been more succinct when he joined a group of ministers who called on their congregants to practice social distancing.

“If there is ever a time for prayer now is that time,” Desloge said at a press conference last Thursday, a little more than a week before Easter Sunday when most Christian flock to churches to celebrate the resurrection. 

Led by Rev. RB Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church where the press conference took place, the minsters came together to reiterate that their churches will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, they strongly urged their members to refrain from attending church in large numbers.

The ministers repeatedly reminded their congregants to follow precautionary guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control. The press conference took place a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home executive order because of the novel coronavirus.

Chairman of Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge believes the community will “come out stronger” with help from faith-based leaders.

Leon County had 43 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as of early last Sunday. At the same time, multiple sources reported that there have been at least 8,400 deaths nationwide and at least 309,700 cases in the country.

“This is not an easy time,” Desloge said. “We are hoping that on the back end of this that we come out stronger and we are looking to the faith-based community to lead in this and lead by example. Hopefully we will all get through this.”

DeSantis said the order is directed to individuals and not business. He had already issued a statewide shutdown of restaurants, citing that only places that are essential such as grocery stores will remain open. 

Churches are also allowed to remain open. However, Holmes pointed out that he and the other ministers had no intentions to do business as usual.

“It’s not good for a massive group of people to assemble during this climate that we are in,” Holmes said. “We believe in social distancing. I think, from my perspective as pastor, it would be irresponsible, irrational and irreligious to encourage people to come in massive numbers.

Bishop Lamar Simmons, pastor at Love and Faith Community Church, was among member of the local clergy calling for adherence to an appeal for social distancing.
Photos by St. Clair Murraine

“These are not ordinary times and if we are going to come out of this safely, we’ve got to encourage our member to stay away in large number and to follow the protocol of the CDC.”

Bishop Lamar Simmons, pastor of Love and Faith Community Church, said church can help to avoid an influx of members by live streaming services on-line. For those who insist on attending church, he suggested that other rooms in churches be used for seating instead of their sanctuaries.

“There are people that feel like the sanctuary is a place of safety for them because of the fear of this pandemic but you should follow the guidelines,” Simmons said. “These guidelines are not about controlling the church. It’s about controlling the spread of this disease.”

 Tallahassee Memorial Hospital CEO Mark O’Bryant said residents should remain vigilant, despite the city being a close-knit community that has managed to be among areas with a low number of cases.

“I don’t want to create a fear (but) there is a need for healthy fear of this virus,” said O’Bryant at the press conference. “When you look at other communities; not so far from here, it doesn’t take much to create an explosion of COVID-19 in a community.”

Since DeSantis issued his first shutdown order three weeks ago, several churches have been live streaming their Sunday services. Many of the larger churches have been doing that for some time.

Meanwhile, churches that didn’t have the means to live stream have been getting assistance from Vaughn Wilson. Through his company Mega Ace Media, he’s been able to help at least seven churches get on-line.

“Every pastor that I’ve come in contact with is eager to follow the rules of social distancing,” Wilson said. “Not a single one of them want their congregation there. This is an option that is a learning curve.”

Wilson suggested that churches, especially those with technology-savvy young people, could simply use a cell phone to stream their services. 

Simply put, Wilson said, using technology and staying indoors is what COVID-19 has brought communities to.

“If we ever want to come out of the house ever, we’ve got to stay at home now,” he said. “It’s good that it’s helping people to stay within the social distancing so that not only churchgoers but everybody can be safe.”