In addition to this national statement on the reopening of churches (below), SDPC will continue to share resources to support your discernment during these challenging times. With that in mind, Trustee Rev. Traci Blackmon shares her handbook on moving forward during this pandemic and, Trustee Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr. invites to join him in service “Sunday Night Live” for the next three Sundays.
A National Call for
Restraint and Good Judgement on Church Reopenings
In spite of the growing cry to allow churches to reopen, the trustees and general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. (SDPC), a 501c3 and United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) are urging pastors to exercise restraint to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus in their communities.
The Rev. Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the organization, stated, “Restraint and good judgement means that we do what is best for the most vulnerable in our communities, follow the guidelines of health officials and use common sense over the advice of the politicians who are weaponizing this pandemic.”
According to some, keeping churches closed as part of the social distancing, which public health officials say is critical to save lives, is being criticized as a violation of the First Amendment. Protesting pastors have rallied in support of a “Declaration of Essentiality for Churches” and are insisting that keeping people from worshipping and fellowshipping in their church buildings is an affront to God.
But the leadership of SDPC, noting the number of pastors, bishops and church members who have either died or become ill with COVID-19 after attending church services, say that “church” is not and was never just a building, but is the collective work of people who love Jesus the Christ, helping “the least of these,” as is mandated in Matthew 25.
“People do miss the music, the fellowship, the preaching and all of the activities that our churches offer,” said the Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, co-founder of SDPC and co-chair of the Board of Trustees, “but if we go back too soon, and people get sick or worse, die, the church becomes the gathering place of death, not of hope and healing. We, the pastors, are responsible for maintaining and reimagining church for the well-being of our members and putting them in harm’s way does not seem responsible at all.”
The argument that prohibiting church services is an attack on religious freedom is one that is being touted by politicians, including the president of this nation. But Bishop Leah Daughtry, a trustee of SDPC, shared that having freedom does not give one the right to endanger the lives of others. “Is the freedom of those who don’t care about getting sick and dying more important than is the freedom of those who want to follow the public health guidelines?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, an SDPC trustee who is pastor of Christ the King UCC in Florissant, MO, and the associate general minister of justice and local church ministries for the United Church of Christ, said that worship can happen anywhere, and added that “the only thing that makes a church building essential is its service to the community around it – reaching for the left out, the cast out and the forgotten. Churches that have been reaching out to their communities realize that those opportunities have not disappeared, and those who are called by God to care for God’s people and God’s creation answer to a higher power than the office of the president.”
The Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., pastor-emeritus of Riverside UCC, referred to the Bible, where Jesus says, “I come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
“We who value life are always so grateful for it that we will take responsibility for preserving it,” he said. “Those interested in going the second mile – we have a strong sense that they are the champions of abundant life. We want to err on the side of being patient to give life its best opportunity.”
Pastors know that their members yearn for the fellowship that church provides. For many, church is the only place where they find acceptance and affirmation. Without it, many people, including those in the LGBTQ community, feel lost. The Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, pastor of the City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco, expressed that although that is the case, church leaders must still exercise wisdom and caution. “There is a movement, influenced by supporters of the current administration, to open churches in California,” she said. “I suspect financial support has been offered to some of those who will open, as many are feeling or fearing the fiscal impact of encouraging our people to safely shelter-in-place. People have been made to believe that ‘social distancing’ church services are possible, and similar to going to a store, where people wear masks, gloves and actively sanitize shopping carts. This is a poor comparison in my opinion, and a sanitized worship service is not nearly as conducive for fellowship as a warm remote online gathering that indicates concern for people’s health.”
SDPC, which works to provide resources for African American congregations across the country as they deal with issues distinctive to the black community, has been a part of the on-the-ground, Faith in Action’s LIVE FREE #MasksForThePeople Campaign, passing out thousands of masks around the nation. “We recognize that this time of separation from Sunday morning service is traumatic for many,” said Carruthers, “Historically, the Black Church has been the source of spiritual, cultural and economic activity. But it was also through the Church that the genius of Black people showed up to reinvent community in the midst of slave ships, fields managed by overseers, underground railroads and other health crises. We did it before and we can do it again. We know how to worship in a different way so that we preserve our community. We are disproportionately dying from this virus. The Church cannot be led by shepherds who lead us to the slaughter; but must be led by those who preserve the flock,” she stressed.
During this pandemic, SDPC has hosted a daily national prayer call to encourage and inspire people as they fight the destruction COVID-19 is causing. The Rev. Reginald W. Sharpe, Jr., pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Chicago, said before offering his prayer: “I pray that every political and spiritual leader from offices in Washington, DC to the rural roads of Georgia to the bustling city streets of Chicago and Los Angeles will make moral decisions that protect the people. God has trusted us to lead and serve.”
“We will get through this,” said Dr. Carruthers. “The legacy of Black people is that we get through the obstacles that have always been before us. We will get through this – with our communities intact.”
Sowing seeds of confusion at the highest level of government has created a situation in which governors’ decisions to re-open has become politicized, in many cases, and is counter to EVERY expert recommendation including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Rev. Blackmon, a SDPC trustee and a former health professional, has gifted us this manual as a pastor, not a politician.
She emphasizes, “The church is not re-opening because the church never closed. I have been reviewing dozens of documents and websites on next steps for places of worship. This document is an integration and distilling of those resources tailored for us.” Her recommendations are grounded in not jeopardizing human life for profit margins or political gain.
Rev. Blackmon also shares an interactive map link, from Covid Act Now, allowing you to track “real-time” risk of resuming congregational gatherings in every region of our country. See how your community is doing at https:// covidactnow.org/.
Beginning Sunday, May 24, 2020, at 7:00 p. m. ET, and continuing for the next three weeks, President of Healing of the Nations Foundation and SDPC Trustee, Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. will take us on a journey of triumph and confidence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Join him May 24th, 31st and June 7th for these powerful services of encouragement. Join on Facebook at https://facebook.com/jabjforbes or on Instagram at @jaf0906. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
People of faith are experiencing profound loss in not being able to assemble with fellow worshippers on a regular basis. We miss strength we derive from meeting and greeting one another in God’s Holy Sanctuary. Nevertheless, we have learned that the word of God is a secret tabernacle of the Most High. For that reason, I am inviting you to join what I call the Psalm 27 Community for a virtual worship through social media. The worship experience will be centered around the powerful encouragement of the Psalmist’s testimony of triumphal trust and confidence in the faithful presence of the Lord. In the next few weeks it will be my delight to introduce you to the extraordinary comfort flowing through the verses of Psalm 27.
The mission of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. (SDPC) is to nurture, support and mobilize African American faith, civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders to address critical needs of human and social justice within local, national and global communities. SDPC seeks to strengthen the individual and collective capacity of thought leaders and activists in the academy, church and community through education, advocacy and activism.