EL DORADO, Ark. (03/13/20) — A church in El Dorado is taking action to keep staff, members and visitors of their congregation safe.
Pastor David Ruehr of St. Paul United Methodist Church has canceled Sunday services until further notice.
“As a community of faith, it’s simply an act of love and ministry that we chose not to gather in person until this blows over,” Pastor Ruehr said.
The pastor and his leadership team began thinking about the virus when it was first reported in China. Though, it was too soon to make plans when it hadn’t crossed into the United States.
When it did travel here and even into the state, Pastor Ruehr knew the church had to act.
“We heard information from the Center for Disease Control and from other credible sources,” he said, “We didn’t make any concrete plans until the case in Pine Bluff emerged and then we began to have some serious conversations about how we were going to respond to it.”
The church has between 200 to 300 members on its roll and activities include more than just worship services and bible study.
The church serves a “multi generational congregation”, has a part-time daycare center and a twice monthly distribution through the Helping Hands food pantry that serves those in need.
“We felt we needed to look at what the best practices are, what the guidelines were and to respond in a way that would safeguard those within those three communities that are vulnerable which is how we came to our decision.”
They’re initial response was to limit activities and have a limited worship service on Sunday morning and deliver the service on Facebook live. Eventually, if the virus continued to spread across the state, they would buy equipment so that it could be streamed.
As cases began to emerge in Arkansas, his church among others churches received communication from Gary E. Mueller, Bishop of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Mueller sent out correspondence suggesting all United Methodist Churches in Arkansas cancel worship services for this Sunday and prayerfully consider next steps going forward.
Pastor Ruehr said the request wasn’t a demand and that the decision ultimately came down from him and his leadership team.
“If we truly love people in our congregation we are going to do what is necessary,” he said. “We “We just want to do our part in helping to lower the curve and decrease the community’s spread of this virus.”
The pastor believes the church has a moral and ethical responsibility to care for its members and the community.
“We have a moral responsibility to one another and if that means that we can’t meet on Sunday morning for worship for a short time then that might be the most Christ-like thing that we can do.”
“I just want to encourage faith communities to seriously consider the moral obligation we have to care for one another,” Pastor Ruehr said. “If that means we can’t meet on Sunday morning for worship then that might be the most Christ like thing that we could do.”
He said he encouraged his members with two statements: “Let’s live to worship another day because we’ll be here and the people of God will always have an opportunity to gather for worship.”
He’s also reminded of a keepsake his mother gave him that and it’s also how he closed an email to his congregation, “Wash your hands and say your prayers because Jesus and germs are everywhere. This virus is everywhere and the presence of Christ is everywhere we are.”
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in El Dorado says their bishop has dispensed all Sunday Mass obligation for all Catholics effective immediately until April 15th.
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock issued a statement to the churches saying “While COVID-19 is unlikely to be serious for most people, we have an obligation to care for the very young, the aged and those with compromised immune systems and the best we can care for them is minimizing large group gatherings for the time being.”
The following will relate to Catholic churches in the state:
- Public mass will be suspended starting the weekend of March 21-22, except for small groups at the discretion of the priest. Whenever possible, churches will be kept open during daylight hours for private prayer and Eucharistic Adoration as an alternative to Sunday Mass.
- All non-essential gatherings at Parishes for the rest of March and April are cancelled or postponsed, pending further notice.
- All communal penance services are cancelled. Face to face confessions are suspended, and confessions may only be heard with a physical screen/barrier.
- All Holy Water fonts shall be drained and dried until further notice.
- Except for very small parishes, only those entering the Church through RCIA may be present physically for the Trifuum. All others may participate in Triduum services via TV or electronic media.
- On Palm Sunday, priests will hold a short private service, after which people may pick up blessed palms, which will be made available outside of the church.