An Arkansas church is dealing with a major outbreak of COVID-19 among its staff and congregation. First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry has reported some 34 cases of the illness, which continues to spread rapidly across the United States.
In a Facebook post, pastor Mark Palenske — who is recovering from the virus alone with his wife, Dena — said the virus must not be underestimated.
“There was very little in my training for the ministry that covered the full measure of what our church family has dealt with in the past few weeks,” he explained. “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.”
In a separate post, Palenske noted that Dena had been transferred to the hospital for further treatment after suffering a “seizure of sorts.”
“This virus is highly contagious and it is no respecter of persons,” he added. “It seemingly picks its victim at random, so it’s best to remain very vigilant in hygiene protocols to the very best of your abilities.”
Church deacon Donald Shipp told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that 31 of those infected are on staff at or are members of First Assemblies. The other three include two evangelists who led a recent children’s ministry event and a child who was visiting. All 34 of those infected were present at the kid’s event. “[The virus] clearly made its way through a special weekend of children’s ministry at our church,” Pastor Palenske admitted.
Palenske also shared a message of faith and hope with his Facebook followers, urging the church community to care for each other at this uncertain time.
“Respect and compassion for the people around us must dominate our self-discipline,” he wrote. “Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
So far, Arkansas has reported over 230 COVID-19 cases, with two deaths. The global number of confirmed cases is approaching 500,000.