Black Churches Suffer Losses But Look To Future During COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck many facets of life and institutions, including religious groups. Black churches are no exception to this, especially when research shows that communities of color are hit harder by the virus than white peers.

This is particularly troubling when churches have served as long-time sanctuaries for Black communities. They have long served as social spaces, hubs for civic engagement and spiritual connections.

"Covid-19 for the Black church has been devastating," said the Rev. Eric George Vickers told NBC News. He is the lead pastor of the historic Beulah Baptist Church in Atlanta. "Church is community for us. It's the place for spiritual guidance, social awareness, home training, encouragement, you name it. The loss this year can't be properly explained or expressed. It can only be experienced."

As a result of the pandemic, many churches had to change their approach to daily operations. The deaths of faith leaders has not made this any easier, as well. NBC News said dozens of Black ministers and bishops across denominations suffered virus-related deaths.

"When a congregation loses its leader, sometimes congregants can feel rudderless," Charles E. Blake said, the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ. "They feel the loss, yes, of the pastor, a personal loss. But they also feel the loss of direction of the ministry, of the church. And that's unsettling."

Losses like these also have ripple effects throughout the congregation and broader community.

"It's been shattering," Rev. Henry P. Davis III said, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Highland Park in Landover, Maryland. "And all of the leadership and knowledge that has been lost … the main voice of spiritual leadership and community involvement, the trusted voice … and it is difficult."

Some Black churches tried sticking it out like they have with challenges in the past: "Make its way," Davis said. This helped communities through Jim Crow, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and more, but the pandemic is different. Reporters wrote that smaller churches are not using technology to survive.

"Many of our churches had ignored technology," Vickers said. "Well, you have to have a website now. You have to use Zoom and social media. You have to use Cash App and Pushpay and other electronic giving apps. It has shifted out of necessity." He even noted that some churches even lack a website -- a digital alternative to passing the plate.

But while some churches are starting to make the switch, those who already have are noticing a quick shift.

"Covid has accelerated the innovation and creativity of Black churches," Alexander said. "We are realizing there are some things we can do without and some things we can never do without. Pre-Covid, some Black churches were never a part of the digital space. Now, the question will be how much of the digital space will be used post-Covid."

Virtual services are hosted on sites like YouTube, Facebook Live and other platforms. Services are shorter, and songs from the choirs may be pre-recorded. As talk show host Barbara Hopkins pointed out, people don't have to worry about finding a parking space or going out in the rain. This also means that the competition is "keener," according to Davis.

"If you don't get it right, it's as simple as changing a channel to find a different service," he told reporters.

Depending on the church, some are maintaining while others are growing. Some have seen more donations and charitable gifts, while others have seen a decline. Either way, an evolution is happening for Black churches.

"Churches have been activated. Black churches are not sitting still," Terri Laws said, who is an assistant professor for of African and African American studies at the University of Michigan at Dearborn. "They understand African American religion has survived for hundreds of years. And scholars and leaders understand that the Black church will survive — not because everyone could see the future in past troubled times, but because they held out a hope that was beyond what they were seeing. And that's true in this particular moment."

Photo: Getty Images

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content