In Inner-City Black Churches: More Grief, Fewer Resources, Stronger Faith

How the pandemic concentrated pressures on small churches—and how the body of Christ is stepping up to help, one $3,000 grant at a time.

Philadelphia pastor Kevin Cropper’s heart sank last month when he saw a message asking for food among the prayer requests emailed to his church.

“It was a request for something tangible, and we didn’t have it,” Cropper said.

His congregation, Ark of Safety Christian Church, had canceled its weekly food distribution since it ran out of donations when it stopped gathering them in March. “It makes you feel bad because isn’t that what our mission is? We want to be able to help in this type of crisis, but we need the resources to do it.”

That’s the problem with being a small, inner-city black church during a pandemic. Black adults are more than twice as likely as whites or Hispanic Americans to know someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19. Their communities are afraid, grieving, and suffering from the virus themselves; and they are far less likely to have the staff, budgets, or space to help as much as they feel called.

“We are in the city. We don’t have acres, we stay close to each other, and it’s very easy to spread the virus,” said Kato Hart Jr., pastor of Hold the Light Ministries, a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) congregation in Detroit.

American counties with a higher-than-average proportion of black residents now account for half of coronavirus cases and 60 percent of deaths. Even in a church of 50, word keeps spreading of which members have lost relatives to the virus: aunties, uncles, grandparents. Hart has lost fellow brothers in ministry, citing a letter from denominational leadership saying 30 COGIC bishops have fallen to COVID-19—including a dozen in Michigan alone.

“We’re in a fight, and we need help. These megachurches, …

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