MAYFIELD, Ky. (KT) – West Kentucky pastors got a glimpse of how severe a coronavirus outbreak would impact their communities if social distancing and other health guidelines are ignored.
Jeremy Creason, Mayfield-Graves County fire chief and EMS director, met with a group of Kentucky Baptist pastors from across a 12-county region Monday morning. During the nearly two-hour meeting at First Baptist Church of Mayfield, Creason presented disquieting statistics and some recommendations for churches.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “This is not going to go away in three weeks. This is probably not going to go away in six weeks.”
Creason said he is taking steps to prepare his own family in the event school does not resume this semester and how to protect his 80-year-old grandmother by leaving groceries for her on the doorstep.
“Even with all our preventative measures, (the coronavirus) has rapidly spread across our nation,” he said, and the number of confirmed cases will only go up as more tests become available.
Among the more alarming statistical charts was one showing that the United States is at a point where cases of infectious diseases typically double with every other day.
“You can see how rapidly this can and will spread,” Creason said. He told the roomful of pastors that information is key when it comes to calming fears and inspiring people to make choices that are good for the community. He also recommended pastors warn church members to check sources before believing false information online.
Concerns by some at the meeting were for people who make a living off tips and for elderly grandparents who tend to be the go-to babysitters for working parents. Others were concerned that home might not be the best place for children who regularly get their meals at school. And what if the coronavirus drags on long enough to interfere with Easter services on April 12?
Think about ways to help your community, “those are the things that add feet to our faith,” Creason said, like helping people pay bills or get food.
Of the more than 30 pastors in attendance, four indicated they had not made plans to cancel or alter the way they do church. One pastor said he was overruled by his congregation when he suggested canceling worship services.
“You may never get sick, but you can carry it,” Creason said. “You have to think about not how it affects you directly, but how it affects other people.”
Creason said any church that chose to stay open should review their sanitation process and focus on disinfecting surfaces people touch, like push bars, doorknobs, handrails and water fountains. But, he said, the best recommendation to stop the spread of the virus is to limit human contact, in addition to other local, state, federal and CDC guidelines.
When proposing the cancellation of worship services and other gatherings of 50 or more people, Creason suggested pastors share the information they learned at Monday’s meeting and clarify that the church will be working in partnership with the government officials, not being dictated by them.
“This is not the government saying you can’t preach,” said Kyle Noffsinger, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Princeton. “This is the government saying let’s take precautions.”
Creason said the unsettling truth is the U.S. is not prepared to treat everyone who would need medical attention. The situation would be even more dire in small towns with limited resources. One sick emergency medical worker could infect a county’s entire EMS department.
Wes Fowler, pastor of First Baptist Mayfield, said he invited Creason to speak with pastors in the region after considering his church may be underreacting to the coronavirus. As with most situations, Fowler said, even the coronavirus can be used by God to draw people nearer to Him.
“Maybe we have become too self-reliant,” said Fowler. “Maybe this is a wake-up call and we need to be dependent on the Lord.”
Fowler was part of a meeting of Kentucky Baptist pastors and Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders last week in Louisville who were looking for the best way to help churches responded to the pandemic.
“I don’t think anyone has the answer, but we do have one common need,” said KBC West Regional Consultant Larry Purcell. “There is a greater need for evangelism at this time. People are seeking and are receptive to the gospel.”
Purcell said the KBC Church Consulting and Revitalization Team is working on putting out resources to help pastors serve their churches and churches serve their community.
“There’s two things we are looking at right now,” Purcell said. “How can we help you with online giving and how can we help you with better online services.”
Purcell encouraged pastors to follow Kentucky Today for helpful information and sign up for the “Morning Briefing,” a daily email of top news important to Kentucky Baptists.