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Local Churches announce COVID-19 precautions

With public gatherings of more than 250 people discouraged by the Mississippi State Department of Health, local churches are faced with a quandary: What is the appropriate response to coronavirus?

Several area churches have made decisions about their services, modifying typical conventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while still holding services. Oxford University United Methodist Church will hold their regular services and Sunday School as normal. However, that decision was not made without a great deal of thought, according to senior pastor Eddie Rester.

“We’re trying to make decisions about how we gather, when we gather and if we ought to gather – we’re wrestling with that,” Rester said in a video on the church’s social media. “We are very aware of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and also the Mississippi Department of Health.”

All people need to avoid gatherings of 250 people or more. Those who are 65 and older, or those with chronic health conditions, need to avoid gatherings of 50 people or more.

If you meet those criteria, OUUMC encourages you to stay home. Those who feel ill or have people who are ill in their households are also encouraged to stay home.

OUUMC live streams both their 9 a.m. and 10:55 a.m. services at facebook.com/ouumc and at ouumc.org.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church is taking a similar approach, with the Catholic Diocese of Jackson announcing a couple changes in Mass services.

“It will be most important for us to remain vigilant as well as rational during this rather uncertain time,” Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz said in a statement. “As a precaution, I have dispensed from the Sunday obligation the elderly and those with compromised immune systems and underlying health conditions.”

The Catholic Church has also encouraged parishioners to accept Holy Communion in their hands only, and suspended the offering of the Blood of Christ.

OUUMC, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church met Thursday afternoon to discuss procedural changes during the coronavirus scare. Each church, at this time, decided to have services and educate the people on the safety precautions needed in large gatherings.

“I said that we’re not closing down,” Father Joe Tonos said. “If Walmart isn’t afraid, then the Body of Christ isn’t afraid.”

Community Church Oxford also released a statement, saying their services will continue as normal and live streaming options are available.

Community Church is encouraging people to be diligent with hand-washing and carry hand sanitizer that is at least 70-percent alcohol. They are also changing the way congregants greet each other, opting for waves instead of handshakes. Most importantly, those with a cough, fever or any flu-like illness are encouraged to stay home from church.

“As Christians, as followers of Jesus, our response at this time cannot be fear; we have to have faith,” Lead Pastor Fish Robinson said. “I think that’s the biggest concern that I had, that if we’re not careful, we allow the things that go on around us to affect us, and we’ve got to understand that, if we believe God is in control of all things, we believe He is bigger than this, too.

“I think if there’s ever been a time for the church to challenge and encourage people to be close to their faith, it’s in times like these.”

While most churches in the area will proceed to gather as normal, with some extra precautions, Pinelake Church decided late on Friday afternoon they will be moving all of their services online.

“In light of the current situation, our leadership team and elders have made the decision to move all of our weekend services to online services,” they said in a statement. “This means we will not hold services at any of our Pinelake campuses this week and we have cancelled all other gathers for the week of March 15 through March 20.

Their services will be available at livestreaming.pinelake.org.