Coronavirus Pandemic: Why Churches Should Close Their Doors

mark palenske and his wife

In recent weeks, I have published a number of posts about Evangelical churches that refuse to close their doors over the Coronavirus Pandemic. Whatever their reasons for remaining open, the fact remains that these pastors and church leaders are risking infections and death by doing so. God is not going to save them from the COVID-19 virus. Far too many Evangelicals think that God will cause the virus to pass by their homes just as he did in Egypt long ago when the death angel claimed the firstborn child of every family. In their minds, they believe that faith, the blood of Jesus, and prayer, will provide them an inoculation against the virus. As countless Evangelicals are now finding out, such thinking is not only stupid and delusional, it is deadly.

Recently, Greers Ferry First Assembly of God in Greers Ferry, Arkansas held what was billed as a Kid’s Crusade. Whether this event was the infection point is unknown, but one thing is for certain: thirty-two church members, including the pastor and his wife, are infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Three days ago, Pastor Mark Palenske posted the following message on Facebook:

I know that some of you have wished for another update sooner than this, but sitting down at the computer is not my highest priority at this point. Dena and I are beginning to feel some improvement, but the pace of that improvement is much slower than we would like. Our primary symptom at this juncture is a lingering nausea that keeps us wanting stillness and very small amounts of food. We are 12 days beyond our initial symptoms at this point, so this is obviously not a short term situation. Thus far, we have 26 people connected to the church who have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 16 more who have been tested and are waiting for results. Five of those 26 have been admitted to the hospital (including Dena, earlier in the week) and one more is being transported as I write. There was very little in my training for the ministry that covered the full measure of what our church family has dealt with in the past few weeks. The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else. I have two goals for this afternoon’s post. The first is that many are collecting reasons to fear, and I think that is counterproductive to our current challenge. There are many reasons for concern and we are being given large amounts of information daily that demands we carefully sift through it. Fear erodes our willingness to work together, and it steals the confidence of our youngest generation. Our lifestyle has not seen such sudden shifts in our routines or the influx of uncertainty that it has seen in the previous days. Any builder will tell you that the strength of the building lies within its foundation. It’s not hard to construct something quickly, but it takes more time to construct something that will last and endure hardship. Our country has ventured into a fickle and shallow society recently. We have applauded self-expression and overvalued individual human talent. Our culture revels in recreation (something that is not bad, but can be over-prioritized) and entertainment. In the process, we forgot what we were made of. Our foundation was built with a cooperative spirit and has motivated generations before this one to make sacrifices for the good of the whole unit. There have always been people who see the life of their fellow man as worth their efforts. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that we live in a sturdy place. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, right now than where I am. I trust my fellow citizens to rise up and meet this challenge. We are not invincible, but we learned centuries ago that faith outweighs fear. We learned that God, when given a place in our homes and in our lives, orders our steps. I read this morning…”Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)My second goal is to try and alter the current of our social media tendencies. We can give into some real human frailties when we leap to conclusions and seek to injure an unknown individual or when we allow our rage to express itself without self-discipline at its core. Facebook, does not have to be negative! It does not have to inflict its will on the suffering or its opinion on someone with a very different perspective. It can be an incredibly useful tool to encourage and uplift. Let me explain. I would much rather tell you of the superstars that have fought side-by-side with my congregation during this battle, than highlight the obstacles that stood in our way. Two local doctors have gone well beyond their normal duties. It was because they were relentless and diligent, that we discovered the scope of what we are dealing with. There is wisdom in building a relationship with a physician and this circumstance proves that truth all over again. The medical world has their hands full. I remember the two nurses who met us out in the parking lot the day that we were tested. Their world changed in a single moment and they stood tall to the challenge. Let’s be patient with them at this time. They are doing their best, not only to help us return to our lives and our families, but to help them return to theirs as well. Dena and I receive a daily phone call from the state’s Department of Health. Each morning a ray of sunshine asks us how we are doing. We spent hours on the phone together going over each detail of our story. Retracing every step and sharing more information than we could imagine. They took that information and scoured our community for more that might have been affected. Our daily phone call from them won’t last forever, but I thank God for their help in all of this. They are dealing with an unpleasant reality that is testing their training and protocols, and if you ask me, they are doing so admirably. Mistakes and overlooked facts are bound to happen with something of this magnitude, but no one works in a circle of perfection. Not me! Not you! But it’s compassion and character that guides us through the tough times. I would also like to thank my neighbors and my fellow Cleburne County citizens. Your phone calls and care packages have been a God-send. We have lived here for 13 years (almost to the day) and you have been a family that we have cherished greatly. Long before the reality of this virus, we knew that you would step up for the community and we were not wrong! Lastly to the church and our family (both literal and figurative), you have been fantastic! Love is not just an emotion. It’s a series of thoughtful actions. We have felt and trusted in your love and will continue to let that love lead us forward. To anyone that reads this (I know that it’s long), I have a challenge for you. Fill Facebook with the names and faces of the heroes of this season. Tell others about how they impacted your life. Encourage! Uplift! Refuse to voice the negative and share hope with each other!!!

I wish nothing but the best for Pastor Palenske and his infected church members. I don’t want to see anyone get sick, and I certainly don’t want to see anyone die. That said, it must be pointed out that Palenske paints himself as a helpless victim, one filled with all sorts of wisdom and insight post-infection. Where was that wisdom and insight BEFORE thirty-two people were infected with the COVID-19 virus? Why was Palenske still holding church services and Kids Crusades as if all was right in the world? At the very least, Palenske and other decision-makers have to own their own culpability in this debacle. If services had been canceled and people had practiced social distancing, it is likely that this outbreak could have been avoided.

Other Posts About Churches Refusing to Close Their Doors and the Coronavirus Pandemic in General

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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12 Comments

  1. thatotherjean

    There’s not a single word of apology in that missive, for not closing the church to prevent the people in the pews from getting sick. Not much in the way of sympathy for the others who came down with COVID-19, either. It’s a “how we’re doing,” coupled with vague encouragement, letter. He doesn’t seem to have learned much humility from his illness.

    Reply
  2. BJW

    Yeah. I don’t wish illness or death on anyone, but if they exhibit foolish behavior and die, I’m sorry, I can’t feel sad. This man could have PREVENTED THIS. But no, pride got in his way.

    Reply
  3. ObstacleChick

    There’s praise and appreciation for the health care professionals, as there should be, but still a roundabout blaming of sin or society for a virus. I hope all the people in the congregation recover, but there’s no telling how much they may have spread this virus.

    Reply
  4. Diane

    Typical. Not taking responsibility for his actions. Experience is the best teacher.

    Reply
    1. Karen the rock whisperer

      But is experience actually teaching him that he made a serious mistake in holding the services? Or has he simply learned the lesson that he’s not actually in charge of this pandemic? Lots of us have learned the latter lesson without (yet) getting sick.

      I think I’ve met rocks with better learning skills.

      Reply
  5. Karen the rock whisperer

    Why does heartfelt communication require no paragraph breaks? Why does someone (who communicates for a living, dammit!) think that making it harder to understand what he’s sharing is somehow a good idea? I bring this up not to be pedantic, but to suggest that this guy isn’t thinking all that clearly now, and hasn’t been thinking clearly all along.

    Reply
  6. DoctorDJ

    New version of that old child’s hand game:

    “Here is the church and here is the steeple.”
    “Open the doors and INFECT all the people.”

    (And why cannot these fools be charged with reckless endangerment?)

    Reply
  7. missimontana

    Refused to admit a mistake. Yep, that’s a fundie minister all the way.

    Reply
  8. Carolyn Shoup Peterson

    It is important to get all your facts before criticizing the actions of this pastor. The dates of the children’s ministry program were Mar. 6-8. The final gathering at the church was Mar. 11th. They closed their doors at the appropriate time BEFORE most churches, because so many congregants were ill with an undiagnosed illness. It was later that they were tested and found to have covid-19.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      There was information about the virus available to everyone prior to government close orders. I can’t “know” what the pastor was thinking, but his “explanation” and lack of admitting any culpability tells me volumes. Whatever the date, the facts of this story remain a cautionary tale about what happens when churches continue to gather when communicable diseases are spreading like wildfire throughout our country and the world. Churches beware.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
      1. Brian Vanderlip

        Churches beware? Sure and add: People, beware of churches! Churches are in the business of throwing reality under the bus. Should we be surprised when they handle snakes and speak in tongues, when they pray for a cure and throw antibiotics in the trash for Jesus?
        Hoogie-baba been lawdeedah! poopaloopadeedoo-doo!
        (Oh wait! Those are the xxx believers, not the normal ones, right?)
        Well, I have known some reasonable Christians. Mostly they embrace Reason and they do it by rejecting much of evangelical belief! I remain ever grateful that Reason has allowed me to say NO to the Baptists and NO to belief. It makes me feel so so human to be honest after all that repetitive untruth. As as for children’s ministries, well, let’s just say you would be more merciful to your child by kicking them in the ass and getting it over with… Terrorizing children with evangelical Bible-thumping pastors is abuse, every bit as much as punching them in the face. ‘Oh but we don’t scare the children at all! We tell them of Jesus’ love for everyone.’ Yep, the first one’s free, isn’t it…

        Reply
    2. Brian Vanderlip

      Thank-you for sharing the dates, Carolyn Shoup Peterson. What is important for you to understand is that the reason churches sometimes put their congregations at risk is because they are under the false impression that they have some kind of divine ticket to ride. They mock others and blame the coronavirus on sinners and secularists etc. They do not love as they claim to love at all but judge and isolate those who do not agree with them. They wish to make America a Christian nation because they believe that Christianity is the answer. It is not. The baby Christian (so-called) Trump is in office in no small part because of evangelical Christian support. He simply lied regarding his faith and greedy Christians voted him in, dreaming of a Christly Christian America. What they got (with the rest of us who saw through him from the beginning) is a classic narcissist who believes the world is all about him. Are you an evangelical, Carolyn? Are you watching your president live on in fantasy about Covid-19? Will evangelicals accept what they have brought to their country now? Do you still believe that this ‘God-given’ president is evidence of a loving God and the fault is with people, worms without Christ?
      I sit here and wonder just the children’s ministry consists of at the First Assembly. I was terrorized by evangelicalism in my childhood and I would wager that the so-called ‘ministry’ there does the very same to little kids, letting them know God’s Plan for those who don’t comply. It’s sick, Carolyn, just plain sick, don’t you think?

      Reply

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