In early March, before First Assembly of God church in Greers Ferry, Ark., called off all of its activities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, just like other churches across the country, dozens of participants gathered there for a children’s program.

Now, 34 people who attended that event have come down with the coronavirus, according to a deacon at this rural evangelical church 75 miles north of Little Rock, who spoke to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Two visiting evangelists who led the event tested positive. One child who visited the church for the program has covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. Thirty-one church members and staff have all tested positive, with more awaiting their test results.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Mark Palenske, and his wife, Dena, are both suffering from the illness.

Palenske hasn’t been up to using the computer much. After 12 days with the coronavirus, he says he and Dena are still under the weather. They have headaches, chills and “intense body aches.” Recently, he said, their main symptom is “a lingering nausea that keeps us wanting stillness and very small amounts of food.”

But he wrote two lengthy Facebook posts, urging his local community and people farther afield to take the coronavirus seriously, even as some Christian leaders have questioned whether churches should really stop hosting services.

“The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else,” Palenske wrote.

He urged his Facebook followers to stay at home, as public health experts are recommending. “We must keep the affected population to as low a number as possible. Our singular act of stubborn independence can have far reaching effects on someone else’s life.”

Palenske said that six of his congregants had been hospitalized, including his wife, who is improving and is now back home.

He said he remains optimistic about Americans’ ability to make the sacrifices necessary to slow the spread of the virus: “Our foundation was built with a cooperative spirit and has motivated generations before this one to make sacrifices for the good of the whole unit. There have always been people who see the life of their fellow man as worth their efforts,” he wrote. “I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that we live in a sturdy place. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, right now than where I am. I trust my fellow citizens to rise up and meet this challenge.”

I know that some of you have wished for another update sooner than this, but sitting down at the computer is not my...

Posted by Mark Palenske on Sunday, March 22, 2020

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