Churches Encouraged to Close in Three Arkansas Counties

12 March 2020

The spread of COVID-19 is affecting gatherings, both secular and religious, across Arkansas. This is new territory for us as a church, and its presence among us is going to require creative responses. There is much that we do not yet know about how easily the virus is spread and when its transmission will peak, for example.

Arkansas’s governor has requested that school districts in four central Arkansas counties — Pulaski, Saline, Jefferson, and Grant — close because this is the physical area in which COVID-19 has been detected. Other governmental entities in central Arkansas are closing as well. The governor stated that he is not requesting at this time that school districts in other parts of the state close.

Following the governor’s lead, I am not asking today that Episcopal churches across the state close. What I strongly encourage is that parishioners in Pulaski, Saline, and Jefferson Counties not attend worship services or other church gatherings in person, but rather virtually via live streaming, beginning Sunday, March 15, through March 31, at which time we will re-evaluate the situation.

The churches affected include the following:

  • St. Matthew’s, Benton
  • St. Stephen’s, Jacksonville
  • Christ Church, Little Rock
  • Good Shepherd, Little Rock
  • St. Margaret’s, Little Rock
  • St. Mark’s, Little Rock
  • St. Michael’s, Little Rock
  • Trinity Cathedral, Little Rock
  • St. Nicholas’, Maumelle
  • St. Luke’s, North Little Rock
  • Grace Church, Pine Bluff
  • Trinity Church, Pine Bluff

In these counties, if your congregation has the ability to live stream your liturgy, I ask that the members of the clergy and lay leaders do so. In some cases, this will be the Daily Office with sermon.

For congregations in these counties that do not have the ability to live stream, I encourage parishioners to join another congregation’s worship digitally. Here are some links for such services:

In other parts of the state, if your congregation chooses to meet in person, I ask that your church service follows the directions that I sent out on March 11, which includes distributing the Sacrament in one kind only (or perhaps having the Daily Office instead), refraining from handshakes and hugs, and maintaining a safe distance from other parishioners. If we find COVID-19 showing up in other areas of the state, we will need to ask additional congregations to focus on virtual attendance.

I thank you for your continued hard work during this challenging time as we find ways to look out for one another during this health crisis. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry wrote to us bishops today: “Obedience to the moral primacy of love for the neighbor must direct us. My hope is that this will enable us to do that while maintaining the good order of the Church for the sake of following Jesus in God’s mission for God’s world.”

Faithfully yours,

Larry Benfield