FaithHamil R. HarrisReligion

Black Church Extends Arms of Faith Beyond the Pews

On Sunday morning, March 15. the pews in many congregations around the greater Washington area remained as empty as the shelves reserved for cleaning products at local grocery stores.

For some, their absence reflected the importance of self-isolating as the coronavirus continues to impact the nation and the world. But for the faithful, being away from the Beloved Community has not been an easy decision to make or accept.

The Rev. Howard John Wesley, pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, preached from Philippians 4:6-7 as he attempted to calm the nerves of his parishioners during a sermon delivered during a previously-aired worship service.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

From Alfred Street to the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, some churches fortunate enough to have high-tech capability, continue to share worship experiences via the Internet, live streaming to their members. Most people stayed home last weekend where their cellphones or computers became cyber pulpits allowing them to hear the word of God and singing songs of praise.

For the very few, they ventured out to gather in small numbers with other hearty church members.

“It was a blessing to be able to worship,” said Denise Johnson, a District resident who worshipped at the East Capitol Street Church of Christ in Northeast because of the closing of her own church in Maryland. “We have been through Ebola and SARS but I have never seen anything like this before.”

Johnson said she felt fortunate to be able to attend worship service somewhere on Sunday. Later, she and her husband enjoyed listening to a sermon and other portions of the day’s worship service emailed to them from the leaders of the Glenarden Church of Christ.

Tyrone Allen, a math teacher from Beltsville, watched services streamed from the Laurel Church of Christ on Zoom because he had a cold.

“This is a 2 Chronicle 7:14 moment,” he said, “which tells us that people need to humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways and pray.”

Worship services may have been canceled at the First Baptist Church of Georgetown in Northwest but ministry continued for Carol Butler and two other members of the congregation, each of whom worked hard Sunday morning preparing pancakes, sausages and eggs for eight homeless people huddled in the church basement.

Because the church wasn’t open, Butler said one of the deacons called in and taught Bible studies to the homeless through his cellphone.

“We are a small church and we don’t have livestreaming,” she said.

She said their congregation will house the homeless for another week because the place where they normally gather, Christ Episcopal Church in Northwest, remains closed for cleaning after the rector tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We’re doing the right thing but we have to stay prayed up because while Satan is in people’s heads we know that God is in control,” she said.

Worship went on as scheduled at the Bilingual Christian Church in Baltimore where Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison accompanied the church’s pastor, Bishop Angel Nunez, to the day’s several services ensuring compliance with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s ban that limits the number of people who can assemble in public spaces.

As people filed into the Baltimore church, greeters as the doors passed out hand sanitizer. During his message, Nunez prayed for the nation and the feelings of anxiety that may seem overwhelming.

“There is no fear in love but perfect love casteth out fear because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love,” he said, quoting from I John 4:18 (KJV).

As people left the church, one woman, Cindy, double-checked to make sure that visitors had correctly filled out their information forms, distributed as they first entered the church. Then she made visitors a promise.

“I plan to call you,” she simply said.

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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