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St. Louis-Area Clergy Contemplate How To Connect With Parishioners As Coronavirus Closes In

Congregation members pray during one of the final services at Grace Baptist Church in St. Louis Place neighborhood in June 2016.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Congregation members pray during one of the final services at Grace Baptist Church in St. Louis Place in June 2016.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition met Thursday with Mayor Lyda Krewson at St. James AME Church to ensure the city does not overlook its most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to discuss the social and spiritual impact that social distancing has on churches.

Krewson advised a group of about 10 clergymen that their churches should adhere to the 10-person-or-fewer rule for gatherings — which the city announced on Tuesday — while conducting services, because there are confirmed cases of the virus in the city as well as in St. Louis County. Others may have COVID-19 and unintentionally pass it on.

“We know the church is a community, the church is a social activity, the church is a place where you get a lot of information, [but it’s] for your own health,” Krewson said.

There were also over 300 clergymen participating in the conference via phone. Some asked Krewson her thoughts on ways they could worship with 10 or fewer people. She suggested setting up live streaming for services, having conference calls with worshippers or providing one-on-one home visits.

“But if we do these serious things now, we will prevent so many people from getting sick,” the mayor said. 

One pastor asked if having services in several parts of the building would meet the social distancing rules; she stated it would, but it is not suggested. 

Some clergy voiced concerns about not being able to make their church mortgage payments for the month. When St. Louis County Executive Sam Page joined the conference — via phone — he assured the clergy that there would be no foreclosures during this time. 

As clergy members spoke about the parishioners' concerns regarding limited access to testing, Krewson said that she has heard the rumor that African Americans feel that they are immune to contracting coronavirus.

“There is absolutely no sense to that. Everybody is the same in this,” Krewson said. “So, don’t let your parishioners believe that.”

The Rev. Darryl Gray, the coalition’s political adviser, said church members should see the new restrictions in place starting this weekend. 

Gray said members of the clergy and their staffs are already planning creative ways to interact with their members during the upcoming weeks. 

Some mentioned after the meeting that they will allow pastors to relay the message to visitors in church parking lots while listening from their cars. 

“I think we're also finding that adapting is not as hard as we thought it would be, and it takes one or two examples to show others,” Gray said.

Church pastors also expressed concern about making sure their parishioners were not missing out on spiritual and mental guidance that each place of worship offers. Some said that without the churches' presence' alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illnesses and domestic violence will increase.

“We are going to have to do what the black church has already done: make it work for our people,” said Gray, who is associate minister of Greater Fairfax Missionary Baptist Church. “That’s been our commitment from the beginning of the black church’s existence, and that will not stop because of this crisis.”

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Follow Andrea Henderson on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.
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