Jonesboro church that continued to meet despite pandemic must stop, gov says

In this file photo Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at the Arkansas Rural Economic Development Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

A Jonesboro congregation that continued to meet, despite a global pandemic, will be ordered to suspend large group gatherings, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday evening.

The state Department of Health will be notifying Awaken Church Pastor Chad Gonzales ahead of Sunday’s worship services.

Previous appeals to Gonzales were unsuccessful, Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a telephone interview.

“Our public health officials have met with him and if they’re not going to voluntarily stop the congregational-type meeting, then we’ll have to issue a directive,” the governor said.

On March 26, Hutchinson signed a proclamation restricting gatherings of 10 or more people. But he exempted businesses, manufacturers and places of worship, among others, advising them instead to “limit person-to-person contact and maintain appropriate social distancing of at least six (6) feet to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Last month, nearly all of the state’s houses of worship voluntarily suspended worship services. Many congregations have been livestreaming their services instead.

In an email earlier Friday to the Democrat-Gazette, Gonzales said his congregation has taken steps to satisfy public health guidelines.

“Due to the increased concern of others, we have implemented several safety practices so as to follow CDC recommendations. All interior doors have been left open, no offering buckets are being passed, we have asked everyone to refrain from hugging or shaking hands, sanitizer is being made available and we are not holding children’s classes,” he wrote. “We are also more than complying with the 6 ft social distancing [request]. Our auditorium can seat 300 but during this time of quarantine, we have only had around 30-40 people actually in the auditorium for our regular services and around 10-15 for our Healing Academy on Monday evenings.”

Information for this article was contributed by Francisca Jones of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Read Saturday's Democrat-Gazette for full details.