West Florida District Coronavirus Update, April 2:
The COVID-19 pandemic becomes more real and personal each day. We continue to hear of the spread of the virus and the impact that it is having on everyone. As we have previously stated, the situation is changing constantly and attempting to keep up is sometimes overwhelming. Everyone is feeling the stress and uncertainty of sailing through these uncharted waters.
As His Church, we should have greater assurance than anyone else in the world. Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:18) While the rest of the world is shaking around us, we have a solid foundation that can never be moved. We must not be fearful, but faithful and wise in all things as we move forward for the next few weeks. May I reassure you that you are not alone. Our entire team is continuing to lift you up and to make ourselves available to serve you in any way that we can during this difficult time.
As of April 1, 2020, the President of the United States has extended the social distancing guidelines, that were originally set forth for 15 days, for 30 more days. He continues to ask that there be no meetings of 10 or more people in attendance until at least April 30. Meanwhile, Florida’s Governor, Ron Desantis, has made additions to the executive order he issued on March 9, 2020. Here is an excerpt that we shared with you in our previous update that comes from the Governor’s Executive order from March 24: (I share this again because each update layers on top of the previous one.)
A. I hereby direct the State Surgeon General and State Health Officer to issue a public health advisory to all persons over 65 years of age urging them to stay home and to take such other measures as necessary to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
B. I further direct the State Surgeon General and State Health Officer to issue a public health advisory to persons that have a serious underlying medical condition that places them at a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Consistent with CDC guidance, such conditions include, but not limited to, chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; serious heart conditions; immunocompromised status, including those in cancer treatment; and severe obesity. The Surgeon General‘s advisory must urge these persons to stay home and to take such other measures as necessary to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Section 2. I hereby direct the State Surgeon General and State Health Officer to issue a public health advisory against all social or recreational gatherings of 10 or more people.
Section 3. I hereby direct the State Surgeon General and State Health Officer to issue a public health advisory to those who can work remotely urging them to do so.
Wednesday, Governor Desantis issued another executive order that calls for Floridians to remain at home except for essential activities. Here are some excerpts from Wednesday’s order:
WHEREAS, on March 24, 2020, I issued Executive Order 20-83, directing the State Surgeon General and State Health Officer to issue a public health advisory urging the public to avoid all social or recreational gatherings of 10 or more people and urging those who can work remotely to do so; and WHEREAS, it is necessary and appropriate to take action to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is slowed, and that residents and visitors in Florida remain safe and secure.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RON DESANTIS, as Governor of Florida, … promulgate the following Executive Order to take immediate effect:
Section 1. Safer At Home
A. Senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition (such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) shall stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
B. In concert with the efforts of President Trump and the White House Corona virus Task Force to fight COVID-19, and based on guidance provided by Florida Surgeon General and State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Rivkees, all persons in Florida shall limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.
Section 2. Essential Services (Not printed here)
Section 3. Essential Activities
A. For purposes of this Order and the conduct it limits, “essential activities” means and encompasses the following:
I. Attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship; and
II. Participating in recreational activities (consistent with social distancing guidelines) such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, running, or swimming; and
III. Taking care of pets; and
IV. Caring for or otherwise assisting a loved one or friend.
B. Other essential activities may be added….
C. A social gathering in a public space is not an essential activity. Local jurisdictions shall ensure that groups of people greater than ten are not permitted to congregate in any public space. (end of excerpt)
We have sought council from our attorney as to how this should be interpreted. He has advised us that the parenthetical statement in Section 3, roman numeral II, consistent with social distancing, is applicable to the previous roman numeral I which addresses religious activities.
Both sets of these additions will remain in effect, along with the original executive order, until May 8, 2020 unless the Governor states differently. State and local authorities have the final jurisdiction in these matters under the current state of emergency.
The West Florida District’s position remains that all West Florida District churches comply with these and all other recommendations by the Federal, State, and Local authorities. Every church should take this matter seriously and adopt a plan of action that will assure the safest possible path to continue to be the Church in their local community while remaining in compliance with the recommendations. The health and safety of our congregants as well as members of our community must be a priority.
Here are our updated recommendations for West Florida District Churches during the current state of emergency:
- Pray and do not fear.
- Be “The Church” even in these difficult times. Look for opportunities to serve your community. (Check with local agencies, such as your school district, to see where you and your church could best serve your community during this time.)
- Stay alert to all current statements from local, state and national agencies.
- Follow the current recommendations by the C.D.C. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/guidance-community-faith-organizations.html), as well as local, state or federal agencies. (Churches could be liable if they do not follow these recommendations should someone contract the virus at your meeting).
- THE WEST FLORIDA DISTRICT EXECUTIVE PRESBYTERY HAS DETERMINED THAT DISTRICT COUNCIL AFFILIATED CHURCHES ARE TO HOLD NO IN-PERSON MEETINGS.
- WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE GENERAL COUNCIL AFFILIATED CHURCHES NOT HOLD IN-PERSON MEETINGS, SHOULD THEY HOLD MEETINGS WITH LESS THAN 10 PEOPLE IN ATTENDANCE, THEY MUST FOLLOW ALL SOCIAL DISTANCING GUILDLINES SET FORTH BY THE FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES. (General Council Affiliated churches should check with their local authorities and obtain permission for any activities that might be in question, such as drive-in services, etc.)
- Take appropriate measures to sanitize your facilities after every meeting even though there are less than 10 in attendance.
- When meeting with less than 10 people, still use appropriate hygienic measures. Allow six feet of distance between persons, and discontinue practices where germs can easily spread, such as holding or shaking hands, hugging, passing offering or communion plates, etc. Have hand sanitizer available for all who attend the meeting.
- For their own protection, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those who are feeling ill should all be discouraged from attending any public meeting, or any space where they will mingle with the public. This is not easy and should be done with clarity and care. Additionally, all others should be discouraged from leaving a public space and then having contact with those who are at risk.
- If you do not already have an online service platform, offer something as easy as Facebook Live during this time. Our District Team stands ready to help you set this up if you need assistance (Craig.email@example.com.)
- If you do not already have an online giving platform, we will allow your church to have a “giving cause” on the giving page of our website that will allow your people to give. We will then send the funds to your local church on a weekly basis. The District will absorb the administrative fee for this service. Our District Team will assist you with this if you request it. (firstname.lastname@example.org) They will also assist you with creating your own online giving platform if you so desire. Remind people of the church’s mailing address so they can mail in their contributions.
While this list is not all inclusive and will need to be adjusted to meet the needs of each assembly, it is a starting point for you. None of this has taken God by surprise. He is still in control and will take care of His People and His Church.
URGENT PRAYER REQUESTS: Greg Mundis, Sandy Mundis, Ron Maddux, Andy Raatz, Nancy Raatz, Phyllis Benigas, Thomas Carpenter, Avon Fowler, Deryll Turner, Our Churches, Our Missionaries and their families, Our National, State, and Local Leaders, The Leaders of our AG Fellowship, & many more.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
We trust the May 8, 2020 date is a worse-case scenario, however, we are encouraging churches to prepare for this timeframe as it relates to online services and other restrictions. We will advise you as we have further information.
The District Office is currently operating in a remote capacity. You may still reach our offices by calling the District Office numbers as usual. Our new internet-based phone system will allow all calls to be routed to the appropriate individual or department. We trust this will keep any interruptions of ministry to a minimal.
Our District Financial Team, led by Bro. Mark Jakelsky, is working on a plan to assist churches in applying for the Federal Financial Assistance that is being made available through the stimulus package.
We are also working on a plan to present to the District Presbytery Board to offer immediate assistance to our churches and ministers who may be experiencing financial hardship due to the current situation.
We hope to have more information available on these and other assistance plans soon.
After conferring with our District Presbytery Board, the following decisions have been made concerning certain District events:
- FINE ARTS FESTIVAL – Fine Arts has been moved to a virtual platform. Please contact Craig and Dana Hicks for more information.
- SR. PASTOR L.I.F.T.s – All L.I.F.T.s that were scheduled over the next 8 weeks have been cancelled and will be rescheduled as soon as we are able.
- MISSION TRIPS – The trip planned for April 13-18 to Appalachia, has been cancelled and will be rescheduled for the Fall. No final decision has been made yet on the A.I.M. Trip to Ecuador in July.
- DISTRICT COUNCIL 2020 – The District Presbytery determined that it would be in the best interest of all concerned to postpone District Council that was scheduled for May 3-5, until a later date, most likely in the early Fall. All ministers and churches should have received a notice by mail. New dates will be determined as soon as possible. All Ordination Candidates will receive a letter soon explaining the full ramifications of this change.
All other District Events are being assessed and we will update you as to changes as final decisions are made. Please check with the appropriate Departmental Director if you need assistance.
Please know that our Team continues to closely monitor this ever-changing situation and will keep you updated. Do not hesitate to call should you need anything.
Thomas L. Moore
West Florida District Council of the Assemblies of God
4792 Highway 90 | Marianna, Florida 32446 | (850) 482- 2986