Calif. church shutters: Member dies of coronavirus, several others test positive

The late Gayle Alexis.
The late Gayle Alexis. | Carolyn Tillman

A church in Sacramento, California, announced that it will stay closed until at least early April after one of their beloved members died from the new coronavirus and several others tested positive.

An ABC10 report said Gayle Alexis, a Sacramento substitute teacher who died Sunday from the coronavirus, was one of five parishioners from Faith Presbyterian Church Sacramento who tested positive for the virus.

In a statement on their coronavirus mitigation efforts, church officials explained that as soon as they learned members were displaying symptoms last Thursday, they quickly closed the church.

“On March 12, Faith Presbyterian Church staff discovered that a small number of church members were displaying symptoms potentially associated with COVID-19.  That evening, the church leadership met and made the immediate decision to close the church facility on Florin Road to prevent spread of the virus in our congregation and community,” the church said.

“To date, there have been a small number of confirmed positive cases in the congregation. Sadly, one of those has died.”

Faith Presbyterian Church’s pastor, Jeff Chapman, addressed Alexis’ passing in a video posted on YouTube Monday in which he asked for prayers for her family.

“I want you to know that you all are in my prayers … We are certainly grieving the loss of Gayle Alexis yesterday and ask you to continue to pray particularly for her family at this time and for her life group and for those who knew and loved her most and best, along with all those not just in our church but in our whole city, our country, the world who are suffering and are struggling and who are afraid,” Chapman said.

“Remember, we want to continue to emphasize the things we’re hearing from our public health officials. We as a community want to honor those. Scripture says in Romans that we should listen to the governing authorities and so let’s be careful to do what they asked us to do — to practice social distancing, keep washing your hands. Those of you who are older you need to stay home. We are trying to abide by those rules and those boundaries not just for ourselves but for the whole community."

Alexis was identified as a substitute teacher in The Sacramento City Unified School District, according to ABC10.

"Today the Sacramento City Unified School District was deeply saddened to learn that the individual who worked as a temporary volunteer and a substitute teacher in our district has passed away," SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said. "We join the family, friends, colleagues and students in grieving this tragic loss. This death underscores the seriousness of this current public health emergency. Sac City Unified will continue to implement any and all measures recommended by public health leaders to protect the health and safety of our students, our staff, and our community."

Alexis’ longtime friend, Carolyn Tillman, told KCRA3 she was an active member at Faith Presbyterian Church in Sacramento's Pocket neighborhood.

“The minister sent out an email Sunday evening," Tillman said. “She was cheerful, upbeat, loved children — a joy to be around — and will just really be missed because of her positive attitude about life and the fact that she helped me with a children’s choir for quite a few years, [which] was just a real positive thing for me."

She said they knew each other for more than 20 years at church and explained that Alexis retired from Matsuyama Elementary in Sacramento and continued as a substitute teacher because of her love for the children, not because she needed money.

Faith Presbyterian Church said they have appointed a task force of three members of the congregation who have expertise in public health, infectious diseases and medicine to help guide all their decisions.

“The leadership of Faith continues to meet via video-chat daily and is in constant communication to discern how we as a congregation can continue to worship and fellowship remotely, care for one another during this crisis, and reach beyond ourselves to care for others in our community who are experiencing hardship as well. Our mission statement guides our life together, even in (and especially during) this difficult season: ‘A community loving Christ, building disciples, serving all,’” the church said.

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