On Thursday, March 12, Gov. Mike DeWine announced a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a number that was later scaled back to no more than 50.
Lt. Branden Jackman, public information officer for the Highland County Emergency Operations Center, told The Times-Gazette that the number is now recommended to be no more than 10 for non-family gatherings.
The ban excluded religious events like church services, funerals and free speech protected gatherings, but did include a mass closure of schools throughout the Buckeye State.
The cancellation began after school on Monday, March 16 and is scheduled to last three weeks, with schools set to reconvene on Monday April 6, at least for the time being.
Though the state did not tell houses of worship to close, many are exercising caution to avoid spreading the virus.
Jackman and Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner held a conference call Wednesday morning with church pastors and area faith-based organizations to address concerns.
“It was very well received,” Jackman said. “The whole idea was to provide these pastors and organization leaders with the information they need to make an informed decision as to whether they stay open, do they close, do they do their services on-line, things like that.”
He said there was discussion as well as to how Holy Week services would be conducted, and other activities like Easter egg hunts and sunrise services.
“Several of our larger churches have made the decision to go online,” Jackman said. “Many of the smaller churches either don’t have the ability or the technology to do a prerecorded or live stream service on Facebook or a website.”
One of those “technologically challenged” smaller churches that dot the Highland County countryside is New Beginnings Church in Sugar Tree Ridge, with pastor Jim Brock making the decision to cancel services for the next two Sundays.
“The Bible does tells us to use wisdom as leaders of a church,” Brock said. “And as such, we have an obligation to protect those we shepherd and to obey the laws of those above us, and the last thing we want to see happen is someone to contract this illness either in church or through our monthly food ministry.”
Every month on the second Thursday, Brock’s church has a food truck ministry and though he is considering suspending it until the crisis passes, he questions whether there will be enough overflow and overstock from regional food banks to support it in the near term.
“When the hurricanes hit a couple of years ago, we lost a lot of our food ministry because of supplies we sent down south,” he said. “And with things flying off the store shelves and some of the stores closing down, I have to wonder if we’ll have anything for next month.”
Addressing the panic buying and hoarding that’s been in the news, Brock’s advice came from his Friday morning devotional Bible reading, where Paul wrote to the church at Rome: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.