Bishop Richard J. Pender Sr., senior pastor of Beth-El Temple Church of Christ in West Baltimore. (Courtesy photo)

By CherRae Dickinson
Special to the AFRO

Black churches were forced to halt services due to the social distancing regulations administered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Beth-El Temple Church of Christ, a Black church in Baltimore City, is one of those that closed but it has not stopped its Sunday morning services. 

“I have continued to have the Sunday morning worship experience because the government has allowed it,” said Bishop Richard J. Pender Sr., senior pastor. “If they have allowed it, then we need to find a way to do it.”

The pandemic is hurting U.S. Black churches financially and emotionally. The National Association of Evangelicals surveyed about 1,000 churches and found that 34% of them reported a decline in giving by 10-20% or more. 

Rev. Prince Rivers, pastor of Union Baptist Church and third vice president of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said that churches need to adopt online giving and convince members it is a viable alternative to the Sunday offering. 

Despite a 20% decline in donations at Beth-El Temple Church of Christ, Bishop Pender said, “We are still able to do everything we need to do.”

In the beginning, African-Americans established churches because they were not accepted in White churches. The Black church is not only for communal worship, but it continues to be a source of support for social issues like poverty, homelessness, and prison ministry in the Black community. 

“The ability to have a fellow worshipper pick up your need to be ministered to, then do so, is a blessing,” said Elder Wahseeola Evans.

She added that there is a biblical underpinning for fellowshipping, noting that Matthew 18:20 in the bible,states, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the worship experience, especially in Black churches. They have had to become more creative as a result. They now engage their members by using digital platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Zoom.

“Along with Sunday morning service, we also have bible class on Zoom,” said Minister Shea Stansbury. “We were also able to have a virtual activity program, ‘Beth-El Temple’s Young Innovators’.” 

That November program allowed several church members to pitch their business ideas, like the television show Shark Tank, to a panel of investors. The entire church could watch the presentations on Zoom and Facebook.

Church members were able to do this because Beth-El Temple responded to their need as soon as the pandemic struck. 

Beth-El Temple premiered its first Sunday morning service March 22, the same week that Gov. Larry Hogan, ordered a ban on large public gatherings.