Half online, half in person: The state of Black churches now and possibly on Easter

by | Apr 6, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — As the leader of an umbrella group of Black denominations, the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson sees the state of the Black church from a bird’s-eye view.And as the senior pastor of a predominantly Black church in Mount Vernon, New York, north of Manhattan, he also witnesses up close how a 3-year-old pandemic has changed the churchgoing culture for which many African Americans have been known.
After gathering in favorite pews and hearing sermons and songs in person, many churchgoers have come to relish the convenience and comfort of worshipping from home.
The Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson. Courtesy photo
But as Easter approaches, leaders of some of those denominations cautiously hope for a resurrection in the numbers of people who return to the pews.
“The last few months we have seen some recovery in the African American church in terms of people coming back to church,” said Richardson, chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches. “It’s not fully back by far but it’s a hopeful sign they’re coming back.”
Expectations for many Black pastors are tempered by the realities that some churches have closed permanently while others are still harnessing  technology to bring services into their members’ homes and phones.
Bishop J. Drew Sheard, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, has seen the lows and highs of the Black church since the pandemic began in 2020.

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Five of the top leaders of the denomination by his reckoning were lost to COVID-19, along with many members of his church nationwide. Anxiety about the pandemic has continued to keep people away from in-person worship.
“That fear does not seem to prevail when they go to sports activities or the mall,” said Sheard. “But they have been invoked with fear that you can catch COVID at church.”
He estimates that at least 75 to 100 churches affiliated with COGIC — which claims about 12,000 congregations — have closed perma …

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