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Coronavirus taking a toll on services at churches

PARKERSBURG — The Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia has canceled all public services for the foreseeable future because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the bishop announced on Friday.

The Right Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer said he ordered the cancellation after speaking with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and learning that the governor closed public schools. Bishop Mark Brennan of the Roman Catholic Diocese also closed schools and canceled Mass on Friday.

“In nearly 40 years in the ordained ministry and nearly 20 years as Bishop of West Virginia, I have never canceled a church service. (There was perhaps one or two that I could not get to due to weather),” Klusmeyer said in a message to Episcopalians on Friday.

“But we appear to be in a new environment. The COVID-19 appears to have many baffled. Responses are coming, but the one common aspect is that social gatherings should be limited. Around us, many Dioceses have already canceled all public worship services: D.C., Virginia, Lexington and more,” he said. “So, I am writing to say that all public services are to be ceased for the foreseeable future. I hope that this will be two weeks. But, we will revisit this daily.”

Episcopalian churches in the area include Good Shepherd and Trinity in Parkersburg, Grace Church in St. Marys, Grace Church in Ravenswood and Christ Memorial in Williamstown.

No cases of the virus have yet to be confirmed in West Virginia, according to the latest report by the Department of Health and Human Resources on its coronavirus website, coronavirus.wv.gov.

Nearly three dozen tests have been performed on suspected cases.

Besides the No. 1 recommendation to frequently wash hands with soap and water, health officials advise people to avoid unnecessary travel and large crowds. Numerous events that draw large crowds have been canceled around the country, in Ohio and West Virginia and locally.

Klusmeyer said the decision was being made out of an abundance of caution.

“I pray that while the Eucharist will not be available at our parishes and missions, that other means of corporate/virtual/electronic means of gathering will take place,” he said.

A sampling of messages to the parishes of other churches in Parkersburg and Marietta included cancellations and modifications to services.

At the Christ Lutheran Church in Vienna, there will be no sharing of the peace, Holy Communion was suspended and parishioners are asked to keep 6 feet apart.

Presbyterian Church USA recommended virtual meetings if needed. The Vienna Ministerial Association has canceled its Lenten Lunches on Wednesday, March 25 and April 1. The Warehouse Church will have online church Sunday.

The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta has suspended all large group activities at the church. No services will be held today at the church, according to a message to the congregation.

North Parkersburg Baptist Church will hold Sunday morning services, but recommended people stay home if they have been exposed or have symptoms, among other precautionary measures.

“When we gather, a pleasant nod and smile should replace handshakes, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and wash your hands!” the church told members.

Emmanuel Baptist Church on 23rd Street will hold services today, but understands many people will not attend, Pastor Kurt Busiek said in a Facebook video message to the congregation.

“Only a few of you are going to show up,” Busiek said.

The church, which has canceled all programming outside the church for this week, will stream Sunday services on its Facebook page, Busiek said.

South Parkersburg Baptist Church announced Friday it was canceling all services and church-related gatherings until April 5, although weekly messages will continued to be delivered on the church’s Facebook page.

Stout Memorial United Methodist Church in Parkersburg announced Saturday it was canceling its Sunday morning service and other activities, with the sermon by the Rev. Cindy Eakle to be streamed on Facebook.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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