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Delta Variant Affecting Church Life in Louisiana
|The following map shows parishes at risk for COVID-19|
“It has never been more clear that we are in an unchecked COVID surge that, in addition to threatening the health and wellbeing of many Louisianans, also threatens the capacity of our hospitals and medical facilities to deliver care to their patients," said Governor Edwards. "That is simply unacceptable."
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey shares concern over the surge in Louisiana.
"The most responsible thing we can do is get vaccinated and wear a mask whether you are vaccinated or not," she said. "Breakthrough infections are real, and while persons do not typically get sick enough to be hospitalized or die, they can still pass the virus to the almost 70% unvaccinated. I am asking all United Methodists in Louisiana to do your part - wear a mask anytime you are indoors, and that includes worship and other church gatherings."
The Louisiana Conference will be hosting a LIVE interactive webinar Friday, August 13th, from 1:00pm - 2:30pm on ZOOM. The webinar will feature Dr. Robert Peltier, Chief Medical Officer of North Oaks Hospital in Hammond. Dr. Peltier will answer your questions and discuss how we can respond to the growing crisis in Louisiana. Click here to register.
COVID Complicates Ministry Start
Six weeks ago, a new appointment season began in Louisiana as some pastors moved to new areas and began new appointments all across the Conference.
For Rev. Peter Gaughan, the change was 172 miles to the east, moving from Crowley to Madisonville in St. Tammany Parish to serve as pastor at North Cross United Methodist Church.
In the time since Gaughan moved, COVID has surged in his new area. Six weeks ago, positive cases in St. Tammany Parish were low. As the calendar turned to July, just eight new cases were reported. Last week, 393 new cases were reported.
As most pastors begin a new appointment, there is tremendous anticipation for that first Sunday, and for Gaughan, it was no different. In the days leading to his first Sunday, he remembers arriving at the church to visit and pray with the band. Just a few days after that meeting, someone in the band tested positive for COVID, and Gaughan found himself back in the world of online pastoring.
"COVID has complicated the beginning of my ministry at North Cross, but God is always in our midst, even when we can't point to where," Gaughan says. "Despite the complications, our ministry together has still begun, and we still worship together each Sunday. God's grace continues to sustain us.
"God Grieves Along with Us"
Rev. Kathy Fitzhugh serves as pastor at Faith Crossing United Methodist Church in Walker, LA, in Livingston Parish. Livingston is part of Louisiana's Florida parish region, a region hard hit by the Delta variant.
Ask Fitzhugh about what it means to serve in times like this, and she'll repeat a familiar refrain for most pastors. "These are tender times and difficult discussions and one of those things that seminary did not prepare us for," she says. "Who could have known that we would ever need to know how to help guide our church through a pandemic?"
Faith Crossing is seeing a regress in church activities. The Back to School Bash has been canceled, as has the pot luck Wednesday evening supper, which coincides with Wednesday evening Bible studies. The studies themselves have returned to Zoom.
|Rev. Kathy Fitzhugh|
Fitzhugh says five church members have been diagnosed with COVID, and two of them have been hospitalized. Additionally, she is surrounded by positive COVID cases in her neighborhood as four people have tested positive, including two teenagers.
Vaccination rates in this area of Louisiana remain extremely low. Fitzhugh says reasons for not protecting one's self via vaccination vary. "It's everything from a fear of shots to not wanting to be told what to do," she says. "I am supporting people in their decision and praying for and with them. For those infected, I am present by phone and text and pray with them over the phone."
Despite the hospitalizations, high case count, and alterations once again to worship activities, Fitzhugh sees God in the midst of it all. "I see God in the faces of the medical professionals who are tired and frustrated and as frightened as I am, but keep on going anyway," she says. "I see God in the worshipers each Sunday who are willing to continue to come and mask and social distance so they can be together to worship."
"God has not left us. God is with us. God grieves along with us. God brings hope in the midst of this despair. God is there when my frustration pours down my face in something that looks a lot like tears. God is there in the joy when a person makes a turn toward healing. God is there when the healing a loved one receives is the ultimate healing that brings an end to life on earth and a beginning to live with God in eternity. God is there with our governor when he asks the very difficult question: 'Do you give a damn?' God is even there."
Thursday evening, the sign was vandalized with red spray paint, covering the word 'vaccinated'. The vandals left behind a message on the concrete that read 'faith over fear.'
Rev. Shawn Anglim encouraged his congregation to pray for the vandals.
Posting on Facebook, he said, "There is a lot of anger out there...we need to be praying for each other. Make today a day of prayer for those who experience and see the world differently from you. Ask that God will help you empathize with them, and to turn the other cheek and keep walking in truth and faith and kindness."
He concluded his post by saying, "God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it."
First Grace United Methodist Church volunteers quickly cleaned up the scene the following morning, as nearly a dozen members scrubbed the sign and power washed the driveway.
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