The global outbreak of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, has changed the way of life for thousands of Americans across the country with sudden closures and mandatory stay-at-home orders in major cities. Any businesses deemed non-essential have been closed down by local governments and citizens are urged to self-quarantine at home to stop the spread of the virus—affecting all areas of our lives and communities, including black churches.
Many Americans also found themselves no longer employed and have already been traumatized by the fallout caused by the virus outbreak. Any gathering of more than 10 people has been banned across the country. Institutions like churches, long a source of strength for those going through difficult times, are struggling at a time where many can’t afford to keep their doors open. And black churches are finding it hard to close their doors to parishioners in need.
For Pastor Paul J. James of the CareView Community Church in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, closing its doors would be turning its back on the many people looking for guidance during this crisis. In an interview with The Undefeated, James says the move would be “counterintuitive to most churches, especially the black church … where we’re just glad to get together because of how hard life has been historically for us here in America. Church has been a safe place for us. It’s been a safe harbor. Now here we are faced with the inability to come together.”
“There are multiple reasons these large mega-churches may keep their doors open, reasons that relate to a complex web of fear of paying large mortgages and staff salaries, smaller black churches collapsing because of lack of institutional and financial support; they also may not have the kind of larger structural resources to maintain their buildings that some mainline churches have when their doors close and giving inevitably drops off, ” Cleve V. Tinsley IV, social scientist of religion, tells Christianity Today.
“There also may be differences between older and younger generations of black Americans. Those who have been through Jim Crow may go to church no matter what. We need to be considering the structural, economic, and generational divides that shape responses to COVID-19.”