Last week the recommendation was isolation. This week it is social distancing.

Basically social distancing is staying away from each other until there is a cure for the virus. No other group participates more in social gathering every week than the Church.

This is why the Rusk County Office Emergency Management (OEM) saw the need to have a meeting with Rusk County religious leaders to make them aware of the problem and help them plan. The meeting was held at the First Baptist Church in Henderson with over 50 in attendance.

The session was called Preparing Faith Communities for COVID-19 and was a briefing for religious leaders.

“There’s no reason to be scared, were facing something we have never faced before,” said James Pike, Emergency Management Coordinator.

Pike went on to tell the group that the goal is to keep the virus below the capacity of our healthcare system.

“Previously we did isolation now we are doing social distancing,” said Pike. “We started this on Friday (March 13) and we need the entire population to participate in social distancing.

Pike then shared with the group comparison charts of the effects of the coronavirus in Texas, the nation and the world.

Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Patrick Dooley explained to the ministers the disaster declaration for the county that had earlier been signed by Rusk County Judge Joel Hale.

“This (the declaration) will help us get resources from the state and federal governments. That’s the reason we did this for the county,” Patrick said.

Stacy Horn, Henderson Police Department Chaplain told the group that they should be meeting like this.

“We’re all having to make adjustments. Don’t forget to communicate with one another by phone, text, social media with this social distancing,” said Horn.

Next David Chenault, OEM Public Information Officer and Youth Minister at the South Main Street Church of Christ addressed the ministers.

“I have lived in Henderson over eight years and have never seen this many from the faith community gathered for an event,” said Chenault.

Chenault told the group that most churches has people from one extreme to the other in how they handle this disease and that pastors have a lot to deal with.

He went on to tell the group that social distancing should help curve this problem (virus) and people need to share their stuff, not hoard it.

Chenault said, “Don’t panic, this serves no purpose.”

Three strategic areas were discussed. They were planning, preventing and ministering.

The ministers were encouraged to create a plan that consisted of forming a team, think about problems, brainstorm for solutions, put the plan in writing, prepare and review the plan.

Preventing was also encouraged such as posting signs, increase cleaning, using sanitizers, turn off water fountains, open doors during services, screen people and most importantly limit touching time such as greeting and communion.

The third strategic area was ministering to the people by responding to them. You must assess their needs, use local resources and by all means protect your volunteers Chenault told the group.

At the end of the meeting the religious leaders were asked to share what measures they have taken during this pandemic.

Some churches have canceled their services temporarily others have designed a plan for their congregations, while others have reduced office hours.

Several are not having services in their buildings but using live streaming either on their websites or Facebook page. They were cautioned to give those who can’t receive live streaming something in print.

One of the concerns was how will churches receive their tithe and offerings with services canceled. Some already had a plan in place such as online giving or dropping off at the church office or mailing their tithe and offerings to the church.

“This is a huge opportunity to minister in ways we have never done before,” Chenault said.

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