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More than 30 worshippers have been infected with coronavirus in an Arkansas church — and one has died

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Although many Catholic and Mainline Protestant ministers have been encouraging aggressive social distancing and opted for online sermons rather than in-person gatherings, some fundamentalist evangelical churches have vowed to defy social distancing. But pastors who don’t think that social distancing is a good idea should take a look at the coronavirus tragedy at the Greers Ferry First Assembly Church in Arkansas.


William Barton, a 91-year-old door greeter at the church, died from coronavirus on Tuesday, March 24. And according to the Independent, more than 30 members of the Greers Ferry First Assembly Church have tested positive for COVID-19 — including the church’s pastor, Mark Palenske, and his wife Dena Palenske.

Before Barton’s death, Pastor Palenske warned churchgoers to take the pandemic seriously.

“We were definitely sick, but the testing was not available — not for us and not for dozens of us in the church,” Pastor Palenske wrote. “We pushed the envelope a little with some local medical help in the hope that our concerns could be set aside. One local doctor had a very small number of commercial tests, and the rest is history, I suppose.”

The pastor has described the type of symptoms the Palenskes experienced, which included severe chills, headaches, sweating and nausea. One morning, according to the pastor, his wife suffered something comparable to a seizure and had to be hospitalized.

The Independent’s Graig Graziosi notes that some other pastors in the Deep South, however, are rejecting social distancing and have vowed to continue holding in-person gatherings — for example, Pastor Tony Spell in Louisiana and Greg Locke of the fundamentalist Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee. Locke tweeted, “I’m beyond fired up at this point!!! Y’all need to WAKE UP. Facebook removed my service announcement post and said to keep the church open was promoting a crime. WE ARE NOT CLOSING!!!”

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