No Separation of Church and State with the Coronavirus

Many churches are closed for now.

WHITE MOUNTAINS — As the coronavirus escalates around the world and has now moved into Navajo County, many church leaders have chosen to follow government recommendations and cancel church services and activities. In a random sampling of White Mountain churches, though beliefs and practices among denominations differ, they all seem to agree that the number one priority is to keep people safe and to avoid the spread of the virus.

On March 14, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, shared a message of hope regarding COVID-19 in a press release, and posted a video on the organization’s website at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/ and Facebook page. Though his message was short, he said, “These unique challenges will pass in due time. I remain optimistic for the future.” Following those words, he encouraged members to use this time as an opportunity to care for themselves and minister to those in need. Church services have been suspended world-wide and Nelson encouraged members to watch the new Mormon videos and use other technology and home-study.

According to Pastor Greg Bowman who co-pastors the Word of Life Church in Concho, the Assemblies of God Arizona Ministries network and general council has recommended all of their churches adhere to the advisory regarding keeping groups small — 10 or fewer people. They further recommend they are broadcasting video online service at https://www.azag.org in lieu of attending church. According to their website, they are encouraging everyone of their churches in each state to follow all government recommendations to avoid any liability associated with the virus. They state, ”It is right to submit to all government authorities when it comes to the health and safety of people. These rights of health and safety trump the rights of all churches to continue meeting.”

White Mountain Roman Catholic churches fall under the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico. Their first response to the effects of COVID-19 resulted in a March 12 letter from Bishop James Wall admonishing the churches to make adjustments in various church procedures that included hand-holding or shaking hands and communion.

On March 17, those directives were updated. In a letter to the churches, provided to the Independent by St. Mary of the Angels church in Pinetop, Bishop Wall stated that the new directives were arrived at after much consultation and prayer. He released parishioners from Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation. He said that churches and chapels would remain open for private prayers but he encouraged everyone to adhere to the protocols of a 10-person limit and social distancing of six feet. All public masses have been suspended until further notice along with public devotions. Catholic schools are closed until public schools re-open. All special events are either canceled or postponed, except those necessary for business. Signs will be posted on the doors of the churches and parishioners are encourage to say the rosary daily as a family. Sunday Mass is streamed live at dioceseofgallup.org. Mass can also be seen at http:/RelevantRadio.com.

The message to the faithful is, “The work of the Church continues, even in the midst of the coronavirus, especially our service to the poor and those hardest hit by the pandemic.”

White Mountain Bible Church in Show Low is also using technology to update their congregation on COVID-19. Their website begins with a post of an email they sent out to their congregation:

“We pray that this email finds you standing fast in your confidence that God is sovereign and uses all things to accomplish his purposes (Rom 8:28-32). We look forward each week to the gathering of God’s people to fellowship and worship. It has, however, been recommended by the state and federal authorities to restrict our gatherings to less than 50 people, which directly effects our Regular Sunday Worship Service.”

“Though we cannot be together in person we can still meet together around the Word of God. For the next 2 Sundays, we will record and post the Sunday Sermon with bulletin questions on our website. We encourage you to gather (as you are able) in small groups on Sunday to listen to and discuss the teaching of God’s Word.”

Click the following link to find the latest sermon: http://wmbcsl.org.

Though a small sampling of churches on the Mountain, the common thread among them is to follow the rules for the protection of other human beings and to help others.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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