The coronavirus approaches the “Saints” of the Church of God in Christ the same way it does anyone anywhere in the world – it aims to infect and kill. The toll has been heavy, including taking the lives of two members of the General Board.
On May 1, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., sent out a sobering message.
“While we understand that many states are now proceeding with efforts to ease stay-at-home mandates with the reopening of restaurants, malls, movie theaters, churches and other public venues at limited capacity, we must continue to stress that we are not yet in the clear with the coronavirus pandemic,” wrote Bishop Blake.
“Collectively, as a denomination, we must use wisdom in realizing the need for continued social distancing, which will undoubtedly continue to impact the ways in which we would normally gather for church services, church meetings and church events. We do not recommend the reopening of COGIC churches at this time.”
Local church leaders have responded creatively, including virtual, online services. Last Sunday, Bishop Charles H. Mason Patterson Sr., pastor of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, held a socially-distanced service on the parking lot of Pentecostal, which adjoins Robert R. Church off Downtown Memphis.
Bishop Brandon B. Porter, who pastors Greater Community Temple COGIC, is a member of the General Board of the 6-million-plus international denomination. While many COGIC members have suffered and died from COVID-19, COGIC itself “is not in crisis” from the coronavirus, he said.
COGIC, which is headquartered in Memphis, is known for what Porter called its “great gatherings, which could lend to some of our spread.” COVID-19 is thought to have taken root in the latter part of 2019, not reaching the US until after the first of the year. As 2020 dawned, COGIC officials went forward with business as usual with their gatherings
“And we weren’t privy to know what was going on,” said Porter. “And then when we did find out, there were such mixed signals coming from the White House and with the scientists and doctors. While some were saying it’s a pandemic, others are saying it’s a hoax. So we didn’t know who to believe.”
COGIC’s “Saints” – as they are called, “got caught in the crossfire, I believe, of this whole scenario,” said Porter. “And as a result, some of them were still having a meeting in March and not knowing that they were projecting themselves into an environment that had been infectious … or that would have been a bridge for this COVID-19 to touch other lives. And I believe unequivocally that that happened.”
Among the COGIC leaders felled by the coronavirus was a friend of Porter’s, Bishop T.T. Scott of Coahoma County in Mississippi. The 88-year-old Scott died in early April. He had pastored the local church since 1972.
“A very, very dear friend,” said Porter.
The largest of the COGIC gatherings, the Holy Convocation in St. Louis set for November, is a question mark for now.
“There are mixed emotions and apprehensions about it. We’re still in discussion,” said Porter, noting that this year also is an election year within COGIC.
“And so it’s a big year for us and we have no idea what’s going to happen because there’s this unforeseen, uncharted territory of ours,” he said. “But you know, Bishop Charles Mason, who’s the founder of the Church of God in Christ, canceled a Holy Convocation in 1918 (the year of the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic outbreak.”
COGIC leaders and lay people are being encouraged to “continue to communicate and stay connected with the entire denomination via email, our website and various digital and social media platforms.”
And, said Presiding Bishop Blake, “We also continue to encourage and admonish all church leaders on local, national and international levels to adhere to the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during this unprecedented time.”
The facts associated with the spread of coronavirus include its toll on the African-American community. While about 13 percent of the national population, African Americans in counties with higher African-American populations account for more than half of all COVID-19 cases and almost 60 percent of deaths, according to recently released research data.
Porter ticked off many of the factors, including generational poverty and the lack of – or substandard – primary care and preventative care.
“It’s a result of them not being able to socially distance themselves, because of the kinds of living environments they have to have, sometimes three or four people in a one-bedroom apartment. … And they’re trying to get along and not having access to proper PPE supplies … and so on.”
Many African Americans, he added, are “essential workers. …Either driving transportation, working in factories, distribution, cooking, and also health care and other things that puts them on the front line and they come back to their homes … and sharing those infections and micro-organisms and so on.”
During his virtual service prior to this interview, Porter preached about the need to stay ready and prepared, drawing his next from Matthew 24:44.
As the pandemic continues, Porter said it’s important for parishioners on the local level to remain faithful in giving to the church.
“If you still have employment and income, or increase, you can give to your church so that your church won’t go into foreclosure or have to shut down as a result of having no income. … And the reason being is that when we get through this, and we will, you’re going to need your church again.”
Part of Porter’s role is to make the churches privy to available relief funds, which has meant contact with White House personnel.
At Temple COGIC – “The Mother Church,” Bishop David A. Hall is multi-focused relative to the pandemic and keenly locked in on where the African-American community goes post-pandemic.
“We’ve got to get the resolve to fight our way through by any means necessary, and come out on the other side stronger, if possible,” he said.
“We’ve got to come out of this stronger if possible, with more independence, and …having more money, and more means. Now, that’s the challenge….
“Survival says that we embrace our anxiety and just hold on,” said Hall.
“ Listen, I ain’t just talking about grabbing anxiety and then just hold on. I’m talking about grabbing the anxiety and handling that thing. Put the ribbon on it, and setting it in the corner, and say, ‘You sit down. I got this!’”
FEATURED PHOTO (TOP): Serving the Pentecostal Temple COGIC congregation is a way of life for Bishop Charles H. Mason Patterson Sr., even when a pandemic keeps the sanctuary closed and the parking lot becomes a place of worship. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)