CASPER, Wyo. – Highland Park Community Church posted a calming message on its website on Friday.
“As Christians we have an opportunity to demonstrate faith over fear,” it said.
“That doesn’t mean we ignore the practical measures…”
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Highland Park is arguably Casper’s largest congregation, and its modern building hosts numerous events, gatherings and even stage performances.
The church was planning on holding its Sunday service as usual today, and then holding online-only services and closing the building to the public for the remainder of the month.
On Saturday, that changed.
“After a conference call with Governor Gordon, health officials and other churches it has been determined that it is in the best interest of everyone that we do not meet physically in our building,” they announced on their website. All services will be broadcast online.
Casper’s Restoration Church said on its Facebook page that services this weekend would continue, but invited those who choose to stay home to watch a live feed. “Shaking hands and other physical contact will be replaced with warm smiles & hearts,” they added.
At least two churches in Cheyenne have canceled this Sunday’s services, according to Wyoming News Now. One of them, First United Methodist, will stream a service without choir on their Facebook page.
The Table is still planning to meet at its usual time this Wednesday at The Lyric, with new precautions in place.
“Keeping appropriate physical distance, we will utilize the eastern practice of an upper body & head bow with hands pressed together at heart center as our greeting instead of hugs or handshakes,” said pastor Libby Hugus in an online message.
Health experts have strongly warned that large crowds should be avoided during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.
On Thursday, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon requested people avoid crowds of 250 or more, and on Friday he issued a State of Emergency to help slow the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Dozens of events, concerts and conferences have been canceled at breakneck speed in Wyoming since Thursday, a day after the first confirmed case of coronavirus was announced. A second case in Fremont County was announced on Friday evening.
During times of anxiety, the faithful would naturally turn to their houses of worship, but a pandemic makes even that challenging.
As of Friday, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was still planning to hold mass this Sunday for its 2,000 congregants, according to Father Gary Ruzicka.
“The first thing we did here yesterday with staff and volunteers is disinfect the entire church,” said Ruzicka. “Let me tell you, that was no small project.”
The church has temporarily suspended communion from the challis, as well as the traditional “sign of peace” where faithful shake hands during the service.
Potential virus incubators were removed, such hymnals and holy water, and the annual St. Patrick’s Day party was cancelled.
Ruzicka says he wants to make sure sick people stay home and that church is not only a safe environment, but a comforting one as well.
“I’m going to do some preaching this weekend and ask people not to overreact and not to be fearful, because that really doesn’t help things,” said Ruzicka.
This story has been updated to include new information.
A call to Highland Park Church for comment on Friday was not returned.
The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:
What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.
If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.
Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.
For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.