The Role of the Black Church During a Pandemic

Pastor Jamal Bryant, Senior Pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pastor Jamal Byrant)

I recently came across an article on NewsOne.com that highlighted a furor on several social media platforms regarding whether wealthy pastors are contributing enough to COVID-19 relief efforts.

Admittedly, some of the social media memes and tropes were amusing and of course, some were outright meanspirited, sophomoric and disrespectful but that’s the complex mosaic of the social media space and if you’re the public square at all, you have to be able to stomach the bitter and the sweet.

As I processed the article and the dialogue it generated, my personal and pastoral PTSD was kicked into overdrive recalling the pummeling my church (New Birth) and I took just a few weeks earlier when we announced that we’d formulated a partnership with a telemedicine firm and a community health clinic to provide coronavirus testing to our community.

Without bothering to do any due diligence, we were labeled as “opportunists,” “vultures,” “ungodly” and worse.

And while it is always painful to be insulted and castigated, it hurts even more when it’s the African American community leading the campaign of misinformation. Of course, New Birth and I were confident in our intent and execution of the testing initiative and fortunately, local affiliate C BS 46, cleared the issue up nicely and we’re moving forward.

Rather than get lost in trying to salve healing wounds, I believe our focus should turn to the larger question of what exactly the role of the church should be, not only in this season of a global pandemic but as the core societal anchor of the African American community.

I’ve preached many times that 93 percent of what Jesus did was outside of the walls of the church as he healed, fed, evangelized and organized.

Admittedly, if you were to honestly assess the 21st century church, that dynamic has been completely flipped. Far too many churches and pastors are concerned with what happens inside of the building and not concerned or active enough with affecting the greater community, and those who need to be ministered to beyond the opulence and comfort of gleaming wood floors and the immaculate stained glass.

We indeed have a conundrum. Should the church be doing more? Yes; and if you look closely many churches are doing plenty.

I am blessed to pastor at New Birth, where we have the capacity and more importantly, an engaged, committed church family who take seriously our mandate to love, lead and live like Christ. Our goal is to be a church that does 93 percent or more of our ministry beyond the walls of our beautiful sanctuary.

In a little over a year, we have provided meals for furloughed federal workers; we have provided 5 000 pairs of free shoes for school-aged kids in the DeKalb/Atlanta community; we have b ailed o ut first time, nonviolent offenders; and married 30 couples free of charge in two mass w eddings.

Even as we are all in the chaos and calamity of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided that even if church has stopped, ministry doesn’t.

Consequently, we are providing free groceries to 1000 families each week and we have entered a partnership with local hotels to provide free lodging and meals to our beleaguered doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

This is the work of the church and it is not only having a major impact in the community; it is helping to attract souls to Christ and members to our church. To God be the glory for over 300 new members who have joined New Birth since we suspended our in-person worship a month ago.

I am proud of what we are doing at New Birth but there are plenty of other churches who have stepped up in a major way even if they are less heralded, barely noticed and never celebrated.

It is disheartening to see so much misinformation gain momentum and to see the church chastised and rebuked in haste and seemingly at will.

The church is needed now more than ever and as we emerge from this recent Easter holiday, I am praying for my comrades of the gospel and I am hopeful that we as a people will be less antagonistic towards the body of Christ and that God will resurrect our hopes, restore our compassion and revive our love and interdependency on one another.

These times are challenging, stressful and unprecedented; it calls for all of us to raise our game and our consciousness in the hopes that we will emerge as a stronger, better connected community.