Having seven ministers preach the seven last words that Jesus spoke on the cross is a Good Friday tradition that was canceled last year by Rev. Henry P. Davis, pastor of morning at the First Baptist Church of Highland Park.
But this Friday, Davis is planning to preach a one-man revival and the doors of the church will be open this Easter Sunday and everybody is invited.
“We are excited about Good Friday, ” Davis said. “We will have a one-hour service and while we won’t have the dynamic of seven different ministers and seven different churches, people are still welcomed to come and be at the building.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many houses of faith in the African American community. While some pastors are again preaching in their pulpits, others say that their members are not there yet in terms of reopening their sanctuaries, but change is coming.
“There is a spirit of fatigue that is hitting many people in their homes,” said Bishop Joel Peebles, pastor of City of Praise Ministries. “As churches reopen across the country and the globe, I want you to know that the church will be a significantly different church than the one that left a year ago.”
People’s message came Palm Sunday as he preached to about 100 people in a cavernous sanctuary built to hold thousands. He added that Saturday, April 3, the church will “cut the ribbon” on a new testing and vaccination center in partnership with the county, and there are many people ready to return.
Peebles said that Saturday at noon, the church will open a “testing hub” at the church. “This is going to be the major vaccine hub; the other hubs are shutting down. Our objective is to get you back in church.
“On Easter Sunday, we are still zooming and having drive-up service with a big screen,” Peebles said. “We are going to come back intelligently. On Sunday, we have 10 VIP families, but we have a slow opening. We will be opening more in the coming weeks for people who have been vaccinated. “
Rev. Grainger Browning, Ebenezer AME Church pastor in Fort Washington, also said he is not quick to reopen his church even though signs are promising about the virus. “We are going back very slowly to make sure that all of our members are safe and healthy. We are not rushing back, and I am guessing that we are not reopening until late summer.”
But there will still be a long line of cars flowing into the parking lot of the Ebenezer AME Church in Ft. Washington because Senior Pastor Grainger Browning and church leaders will be giving out 1,000 $50 grocery cards.
“We started last Easter; we are up to giving out $400,000 in gift cards because, as a church, we want people to realize that God is willing to come to you where you are. We want to be there for people to give them hope. We are giving backpacks to young people; wherever there is a need, the church is there.”
At the Way of the Cross Church in District Heights, Bishop Alphonso D. Brooks will have a live Easter service. “We expect about 500 people because Easter is the largest service of the year,” said Brooks, who added that his church reopened in the Fall and has taken a range of precautions from wearing masks to social distancing.
In addition to holding worship services, on Saturday the Prince Georges Change Makers will host a drive-thru Easter Celebration for children at 5904 Old Marlboro Pike starting at 1 p.m.
Rev. Grayland Hagler, the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in the District, said that his church would continue to broadcast on YouTube, Facebook and its website. But on Palm Sunday, Hagler said the sanctuary was reopened for the first time since last March, and about 25 people came.
“I am inviting people to come to church as they feel comfortable,” Hagler said. “Today, a handful of people came to the church’s parking lot, and I handed out palms as they drove through the parking lot. We want to take it slow and be more analytical because there is an increase in COVID-19in some places, and I know in the community there has been an uptick in newly infected people.”
Davis said that services will take place at Highland Park Saturday and there will be two services on Sunday morning but worshippers will be required to wear masks and maintain social distance.
While many congregations went completely to zoom, Davis said that he never stopped preaching in the pulpit each Sunday even though for months the sanctuary was pretty empty as his members watched at home.
“Throughout the Pandemic we had four weekly services live, ” Davis said. “We are easing our way back. People are getting the vaccine and they are feeling more comfortable about being in worship.”