Coronavirus Is Forcing Black Churches to Make Tough Choices

What responsibilities do pastors owe to their congregants to keep them safe?

A congregation member raises a clenched fist as a gospel choir sings at a church service at the Oasis of Life Family Church. Photo: Lionel Healing/AFP/Getty Images

“We know that the average Black church is between 75 and 100 members. Missing a service can mean the difference between lights on and lights off for many congregations,” says theologian and ethicist Keri Day.

As the conversation of whether to hold service continued, many saw the decision to continue on with regular programming as another example of Black pastors’ greed, regardless of church size. Yet, for many congregations, it was not that simple. All of Louisville, KY’s Hughlett Temple AME Zion Church’s monthly bills are due this week. Pastor Valerie Washington could not ignore that. Additionally, their tithes and offerings pay the salaries of church employees and aid in emergency benevolence.

Laney concedes that, had certain technological investments been made at Monument of Faith, canceling Sunday’s service wouldn’t have been necessary.

As new guidelines suggest gatherings of no more than 10 people, pastors must assess their willingness to concede to forces beyond their control. “Most of us wrestle with the theological and social implications of a decision because our skills may not be as sharpened as we think they are,” Bishop Laney says.

Candice Marie Benbow is a theologian, essayist and creative who situates her work at the intersections of beauty, faith, feminism and culture.

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