On January 21, 2020, the United States had its first confirmed case of COVID -19 in Washington State. On March 11, Arkansas announced that we had our first confirmed case of the virus in Pine Bluff. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 continues to run amok in the United States. As of April 27, Phillips County has mercifully been spared the worst of the pandemic, with only four confirmed cases and one fatality.

Currently, the hotspot for the entire state is Lincoln County. Lincoln County has tested 1403 persons, of whom 727 have tested positive. The state of Arkansas lists Lincoln County’s population as 13695, which means 5.3% of Lincoln County has tested positive for the Corona virus. Most of those positives are in one place in Lincoln County.  

Governor Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith of ADH have been working hard to lead the state toward a lowered rate of infection during the pandemic. During the last two weeks, we have seen a massive outbreak at the Cummins Unit of ADC. If you look at the daily update emails I send out; you noted those numbers escalating daily. ADC routinely quarantines inmates from the general population to curtail the spread. Staff at the prison represent a source of community spread as they move in and out of the facility.

Governor Hutchinson, following the direction of President’s task force, is preparing the state to reopen. The target date is May 4, providing that we achieve some targeted goals regarding infection rates. As of today’s press release, officials are confident that we are on track to attain the necessary gating criteria for that projected May 4 reopening.

Last week I received a personal invitation from Bishop Mueller to serve on a conference task force to establish guidelines for churches as we begin to look forward to in-person worship. Those guidelines are still in the process of being formed, and I promise to roll them out for you once they are made public. Just as with the decision to suspend worship, the local church leadership will be the group that will analyze the data and makes recommendations regarding the reopening of in-person worship.

Ultimately the final decision will belong to each of us. If we are uncertain about the safety of returning to worship, or if we see a surge in positive cases, or we feel that the risk is too high, we will make our feelings known by deciding to worship online instead of attending in person. Every one of us is a person with ample capacity for logic, reason, and risk assessment. We each use those capacities every day to make the right decisions for ourselves and our families. God gave us the ability to think, and I believe He expects us to use it wisely. The Bishop’s Task Force will produce guidelines, the church council will make recommendations, but ultimately each individual will make their own decision.

Solomon was purportedly one of the wisest men to have ever ruled. He is credited with being the author of the book of Proverbs, which opens, “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” Proverbs 1:1-7

Even before Solomon’s ascendancy to the throne of David, his father calls him a wise man. Solomon came to the throne at an early age and much to the chagrin of his older siblings. With a combination of good advice and political savvy beyond his years, Solomon firmly established his rule and ushered in the golden age of a United Israel. He built a beautiful temple in Jerusalem, and when the temple was dedicated, scripture records that Solomon asked God for one gift. The wisdom to lead God’s people.

One thing that I am sure of is that no leader in today’s reality feels like they possess the necessary skillset to navigate the complexities that COVID-19 presents. That includes the preacher. We all long to worship in the sanctuary, but we must do it safely. The only hope that we have is to ask of God the same thing that Solomon requested. “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people” II Chronicles 1:10a That is a big ask, but it is the wisest thing any leader can do in times like these. Pray for your leadership team, and please pray for your pastor.

Pastor Kenny