Pastor surprised his church in Green Forest, Arkansas, on state list

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 4:04 PM CDT
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These days, Pastor Mark Bryant considers maintaining his congregation's physical well being just as important as their spiritual health.

"We're trying our best to keep everything as safe as possible here for everyone who attends our church," Bryant said.

Beyond social distancing, hand sanitizer, and a mask recommendation, Bryant points to his approach in mid-May.

That's when a church member told him she tested positive for the coronavirus days after attending a service.

"We immediately contacted everybody who sat around her. And then a couple weeks later, we told the whole church," Bryant said.

The woman wore a mask and no one else tested positive, so, Bryant figured things were covered from there, until this past Friday.

"We encourage our pastors and our churches to realize the consequence of not following the guidelines," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday.

The Arkansas governor presented a map at his daily news conference. Each dot on the map stood for a church where at least one confirmed case visited.

The state Department of Health released the list of the churches on the map publicly after an open records request, and the First Assembly of God in Green Forest was on it.

"We've never gotten a call from the Department of Health," Bryant said.

Arkansas Health Director Dr. Nate Smith said the list does not mean those people got sick at those churches.

"It was not my intention that an entire list would be used to suggest that any church that had someone who attended there who later tested positive would be targeted in any ways," Smith said.

But the pastor said that list didn't do the church any favors.

Bryant said his normal crowd of about 50 shrank by about 15 people this past Sunday, making him question his belief in the state's programs designed to protect public health.

"Something is broken down in the system evidently," he said.

An Arkansas Department of Health spokesperson said the department will contact churches it didn't get ahold of before the list was made public, and it plans on modifying the list.

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