One church’s lesson from COVID-19: Don’t fear the truth
Plevna Community Bible Church in Reno County has been incorporated since the 1880s and has around 90 members, said Pastor David Green. (Plevna Community Bible Church/Facebook)
As of Wednesday afternoon, Kansas suddenly looked clearer, disease-wise.
That’s when the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released the the names and places associated with active outbreaks of COVID-19 across the state.
Until then, we’d had a map with numbers for each county. This was useful but vague, each number floating above a county like an ominous but opaque gray cloud.
Now, however, we have names associated with those numbers, on-the-ground establishments where actual people live, work, study and worship, and the landscape feels more real.
KDHE secretary Lee Norman said releasing the information gave people more power to take personal responsibility for their own health, “and perhaps make some individual decisions to reduce the spread of the disease.”
The Kansas Chamber used different language. Making its own ominous noise about potential legal threats, the group’s president and CEO, Alan Cobb, said: “We are unsure what the benefit of this disclosure offers, other than a public shaming of businesses where an outbreak occurs.”
Let’s contrast that posturing with words from the leader of one place on the list.
“The biggest thing I think we did right is, first of all, everybody was open and honest. There wasn’t any culture of shame or people not wanting to share that they got it.”
That’s pastor David Green of Reno County’s Plevna Community Bible Church, on the KDHE list with 14 cases.
Members assumed the disease would enter the church one way or another, Green said, and that happened one Sunday after a congregant was exposed on a Friday. That person had been in an environment where masks and social distancing were mandated, Green said, but caught COVID-19 anyway.
“We found out Monday that person manifested symptoms, went and got tested and told us,” he said. “We immediately told everyone to just go ahead and self-quarantine for a couple of weeks.”
Managing the information might have been easier than in other places, given the size of the community. Plevna, about 25 miles west of Hutchinson, is home to fewer than a hundred people. Green puts average church attendance at around 90.
“Everybody in our church is on a prayer chain text list,” he said. “We were able to text everybody, so the dissemination of information was very rapid.”
Green was among those who got sick.
“Predominantly with fatigue, incredible fatigue,” he said. “For the most part everybody’s symptoms were mild. That was about a month ago now, so everybody’s recovered and there aren’t any new cases.”
He described Plevna as an “independent Bible church.”
“I would say we believe that the Bible is God’s word and our authority, and so we strive to follow it and obey it in all things,” he said.
As an unchurched heathen who believes the Bible is fascinating literature filled with beautiful metaphors, I’m pretty sure I disagree with pastor Dave on deeply fundamental things. But his words about openness and honesty were among the most comforting I heard all week.
“In my mind, the more people know, the more they can act with well-informed wisdom, and that’s what we were able to do,” he said. “That prevented it from spreading farther and protected a lot of people — at least for now.”
Green said he’s seen models showing many more people eventually getting COVID.
“But hopefully, Lord willing,” he said, “it will become more mild as time goes on.”
Green bases that hope not only on the Bible.
“I’ve read a book called ‘The Great Influenza,’ ” he said of historian John M. Barry’s newly of interest book from 2005. “It was incredibly lethal for a while but then eventually mutated away from that. And Lord willing, that’ll be the case for the coronavirus as well.”
Other people have been turning to Barry’s book this week, too.
Closing paragraphs of John Barry’s The Great Influenza. pic.twitter.com/7qzne2ayE8
— David Wessel (@davidmwessel) September 7, 2020
I hesitated to bring up the fact that COVID has become so politicized, but pastor Dave had been so open about everything else that I risked it.
“Unfortunately, this being an election year — a very staunchly divisive election year — pretty much everything seems to be politicized, and this is as well,” he said.
But COVID-19 is “not a political issue,” he said.
“Fighting viruses is something that’s been around for a long time. Part of the reason people are so affected by this, I think, is it’s generating a lot of fear,” he said. “And because of that fear, they’re reacting and acting out in a lot of different ways.”
Like the mask thing, he said.
“Give people a few years and, you know, nobody will care about it,” he said. “But they’re going to have to have time to get used to it and accept it, and for the fear factor to settle down and then to be able to process things normally.”
Other than wanting everyone to get used to the mask thing sooner rather than later, amen to that.
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