Coronavirus and Black churches: Houston pastors adapt, offer encouraging words

Historically, in times of uncertainty and challenge, our faith communities have provided members with a level of blessed assurance. The current coronavirus crisis is no different, as churches temporarily suspend in-person services and turn to streaming, teleconferences and social media for services.

Five area faith leaders share how their churches are meeting the needs of their congregations.

PASTOR LINDA DAVIS, Boynton United Methodist Church

Q: What encouraging word do you have for Houstonians during these trying times?

I know that there seems to be bad news everywhere, but there is still good news for the believer. God is still on the throne and we will get through this by faith. Continue to use wisdom by taking the necessary precautions and pray the prayer of protection found in Psalm 91 over you and your family.  Exercise your faith over your fears!

Q: What’s your church’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic?

We are taking things week-by-week. We are encouraging our congregants to take things easy and play it safe. We know that our lives have been radically changed due to the COVID-19 virus. We are following the instructions of our local and federal government of no gatherings of more than 10 persons. Therefore, we are taking care of the business of the church by meeting via conference calls, Zoom, and a lot of emails. We’re also participating in the conference calls that are being held by our Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and Houston Methodist Hospital in which we receive updates on the COVID-19 virus and how it affects us all locally and globally.

Streaming worship: Sunday, 10:30 a.m., Facebook (Boynton Chapel UMC-Houston)

Easter Service: We will conduct on online worship on Sunday and operate our food pantry the day before, on Saturday, which will include Easter bags for the children/youth.

PASTOR D.Z. COFIELD, Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church

Q: What encouraging word do you have for Houstonians during these trying times?

STAY IN. Make sure you follow the directions of the CDC by practicing social distancing and personal hygiene. This is important for our seniors, but it’s applicable to everyone. STAY CONNECTED. Take the time to reconnect and recommit to family and friends. STAY CALM. This is a very stressful and anxious time, and you need to realize stress is not what you go through, but how you respond to what you’re going through. STAY COMMITTED. Be encouraged and see this time to disengage as a gift. In the midst of it all, put your faith and trust in God. He will see you through.

Q: What’s your church’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic?

Our strategy can be summarized in the phrase, “Maintaining Spiritual Connectivity While Practicing Social Distancing.” While we work to comply with the ever-changing CDC guidelines for social interaction, we view the life of faith as essential to a person’s mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. As part of a body of believers, we are committed to staying connected with our members, serving our neighbors in need and practicing social distancing. In an effort to keep our at-risk members safe from the virus, our Membership Team along with the Houston Food Bank through our nonprofit (Hope for Families), is providing them with essentials and distributing food to those in need.

Streaming worship: Sundays, 8 a.m.m, 10 a.m., ChurchStreaming.tv,  mobile app (I AM HOPE), Facebook (Good Hope MBC), YouTube Live (Good Hope), IGTV, www.goodhope.org

Easter Service: Ours will be a combination streaming and a drive-in service. Members can come to our church, stay in their cars and hear the service as its broadcast on a low-band FM frequency (103.3 FM). You have to be within a couple of blocks of our church to pick up the station. We’ll be set up outside conducting service which will be streamed on our website, mobile app (I AM HOPE), Facebook Live, YouTube Live, IGTV and Periscope. For older members who can’t stream, they can call in and listen via telephone. We did this last Sunday; encouraged members to come by on Saturday to pick up prep-packaged communion. Others came Sunday. Those who served communion had masks on.

PASTOR KALONGI JONES,  Shrine of the Black Madonna

Q: What encouraging words do you have for Houstonians during these trying times?

We are a surviving people, and we have always proved throughout history to prevail against impossible odds. Stay alert and be proactive. We at the Shrine of the Black Madonna of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church love you, and we are ready to serve the community at call.

Q: What’s your church’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic?

The Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church was built to deal with community crisis. The fellowship of the church is centered on community engagement and upliftment. Our strategy is to stay in constant contact through email, telephone, and social media with our members and the surrounding Black communities. We have an emergency response team prepared and ready to serve our members and the community on call. We have also teamed with the other Black community organizations to serve as needed.

Streaming worship: Sundays, 11:30 a.m., www.shrinesoftheblackmadonna.org

Easter Service: We will have a national combined live stream Easter Service for our congregations here in Houston, Atlanta, Detroit, and our Beulah Land Farms in Calhoun Falls, SC. The service will be hosted by our founding church, the Mother Shrine of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church in Detroit. Our Houston congregation has conducted our church’s national streaming worship service most of the Sundays since the “Stay at Home” order. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, the service was led by our congregation in Atlanta. We saw it as only fitting that our Easter Sunday service be conducted by the leadership of our Detroit congregation. It can be seen on our website, www.shrinesoftheblackmadonna.org, then click “Live Stream Detroit,” and later on our Facebook page and YouTube channel (ShrineOnline).

PASTORS RUDY & JUANITA RASMUS, St. Johns Downtown

Q: What encouraging words do you have for Houstonians during these trying times?

Here’s a mental protocol as we are “Learning to Be!” BREATHE in through your nose, exhale deeply and slowly. Just pay attention to your breath for a few minutes daily. Breathing grounds, you and allows you to release tension. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR THOUGHTS. You choose to spiral down, or you can choose to spiral up! Choose life! Be kind to yourself. Be the adult to reassure your inner child that all shall be well. Access the Divine living and breathing in you. You can get more tips for “Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out,” my (Juanita Campbell Rasmus) new book available on Amazon.

Q: What’s your church’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic?

Several years ago, we began to see a drop in church attendance and began asking the hard questions like, “What is the future for the church?” During that time, I was completing a doctorate and my research revolved around the intersection of religion and Black millennial culture. We began taking steps toward creating an online presence and realized there were more people viewing the services online than there ever was in the actual building. The onset of the pandemic only confirmed this fact and we found ourselves prepared for what was to come…We will soon be adding an age-appropriate online children’s experience.

Streaming worship: Sundays, 8 a.m., 10 a.m., Facebook (St. John’s Downtown) www.stjohnsdowntown.org

Easter Service: We will be live streaming a 50-minute experience with Motown Gospel artist Brian Courtney Wilson as our guest preacher. Viewers can find us on St Johns Downtown Houston Facebook Live, YouTube Channel at 8am and 10am. We will also rebroadcast the service on our KMAZ 102.5FM at 12noon in its entirety. The service will also be available on our website, www.stjohnsdowntown.org.

PASTOR RALPH DOUGLAS WEST, The Church Without Walls

Q: What encouraging words do have for Houstonians during these trying times?

For the faith community, sacred and secular, things will improve, get better, and return. For a while, we have to live with a different kind of normalcy. For the church community specifically, we have 3,200 years of history. We’ve been through crusades, wars, pandemics, racism, Jim Crow, depressions, recessions, etc., and the church still goes on. Nothing has stopped the church. The church will go on, move forward, and the gates of hell shall not prevail. God will take care. The church is in God’s hands.

Q: What’s your church’s strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?

Our strategy is to demonstrate and comply with social responsibility and follow guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). Our effort is to stay connected with the congregation by moving from physical church to virtual church with the motto, “Bringing God’s house into your house.”

Streaming worship: Sundays, 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, live.tcww.org,www.tcww.org

Easter Service: We are planning a participatory worship, where the people at home can engage each other by responsive readings, unison prayers, choral responses and sermonic engagement.