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Tag: Grees Ferry FIrst Assembly of God

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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Bruce Gerencser