‘We will not bow to a virus’: Arkansas church still holding in-person services despite COVID-19 spread

JONESBORO, Ark. — “The first death of Covid 19 actually happened 2000 years ago,” Awaken Church posted on their Facebook page Wednesday. “The Bible tells us that Jesus took on every sin, sickness and every disease…Jesus bore it so you wouldn’t have to.”

Chad Gonzales, the pastor of the Jonesboro church Awaken Church, explained his reasoning for still holding in-person services in a video posted to the church’s Facebook page.

“Although we honor our government and what the Bible says, ‘honor those who are in authority over us,’ we do honor them, but we also honor our convictions,” Gonzales said.

The church has gone on to post that while Governor Hutchinson did order no gatherings of 10 or more people, that mandate didn’t apply to religious organizations in an effort to separate church and state.

“We are continuing to hold services because we the world shouldn’t have to look to the government as their source of hope; we as the Church are to be the source of hope and healing in our world,” the church said in a post from April 1.

This comes over a week after news that a Cleburne County church’s pastor announced that he, his wife, and dozens in his congregation had tested positive for COVID-19 after holding in-person services.

RELATED: 12 total Arkansas deaths related to COVID-19, officials say

Pastor Mark Palenske of Greers Ferry First Assembly posted to the church’s Facebook page on March 22, saying, “the intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else.”

90-year-old William Barton, a member of the Greers Ferry Assembly of God, was among the first COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas.

Awaken Church in Jonesboro said they are leaving interior doors open so not everyone has to touch them, leaving sanitizer at the door, and not allowing the offering bucket to be passed around.