In the wake of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Alaska, churches across the state either closed or adapted their services this past weekend as thousands of believers struggled with how to honor God on the Sabbath while taking prudent measures in light of the spreading virus.
In some cases, such as in the Catholic dioceses in Juneau and Anchorage, all public Masses and most other church activities were canceled for two weeks on orders of Bishop Andrew Bellisario. Catholic churches in the Fairbanks Diocese, however, remained open but encouraged those who are ill to stay home.
“At this time, we are not cancelling any Masses or Communion Services,” Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski said in a statement to parishes in his diocese. “The situation is very fluid and additional measures may be necessary as circumstances change.”
As Christians we want to be a witness to the world that we will not operate with a spirit of fear because we know that God is sovereign.
Zielinski noted that he is taking part in a teleconference on Monday, March 16, with religious leaders across the state, medical professionals and state representatives.
“After this teleconference an updated letter will be sent out with any further instructions from my office,” he said.
Anchorage Baptist Temple, one of the largest churches in Alaska, offered a Sunday morning service but closed its evening and mid-week gatherings. Pastor Ron Hoffman posted a Facebook message to his flock asking those who are ill or living with sick family members to stay home and watch services via television or online.
“Remember, as this develops, you and I are going to be stepping out of our comfort zone to help those who are struggling,” he said. “We want everyone to know that this is a time of prayer. It is a time for us to humble ourselves and seek the face of God. He alone is the one who can cure and heal and remove diseases.”
Hoffman also urged his congregants to practice safe hygiene practices by washing hands with soapy water, limiting physical encounters and covering up when coughing.
Changepoint Church in Anchorage also remained open for its Sunday services.
“As Christians we want to be a witness to the world that we will not operate with a spirit of fear because we know that God is sovereign,” the church’s Facebook page states. “We will be updating information about church services when necessary but for now we will be moving forward with our normal schedule.”
We are committed to providing a clean and safe environment at our gatherings.
True North Church in Fairbanks keep its doors open for the faithful, while encouraging those who feel sick to stay home and watch the services via Facebook.
“In light of recent concerns in our community about the COVID-19 virus, we want you to know that we are taking every precaution to keep our church family healthy,” a statement from the church reads. “We are committed to providing a clean and safe environment at our gatherings.”
Leaders at Anchorage’s Cornerstone Church also continued with Sunday services.
“Be assured that we are practicing due diligence in taking precautionary steps to mitigate the spread of germs within the Cornerstone facility,” said Pastor Brad Sutter on the church’s website. “All high-traffic surfaces such as door handles, faucets, switches, touch screens, railings, nursery, and classroom toys and tables are being thoroughly disinfected prior to each facility use.”
Sutter encouraged his congregation to keep in mind the sovereignty, love and care of God during this uncertain time.
“Having our hearts and minds anchored to these God realities,” he said, “instills peace and infuses the strength of joy into believers enabling us to walk through all of life’s uncertainties with unwavering confidence that our Good God is the guarantee of our ultimate good.”
On a national level, President Donald Trump declared March 15 as a National Day of Prayer.
“We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these,” the president stated on Twitter. “No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!”
This is a fluid situation. For more information, visit the websites and social media pages of local churches to find whether they will be open for mid-week and Sunday gatherings.