A Harlem pastor who lost 13 members in 30 days, including 11 to the deadly new coronavirus, said he believes the faith of his congregation is now being tested as many of his congregants remain untested for the virus despite their church’s staggering death toll.
“The Scripture says whether we live, we live unto the Lord, whether we die we die unto the Lord … all of us are born with an expiration date on us and all of us are going to meet death at some point. It is simply unfathomable and unfortunate that so many people in our congregation [have died],” the Rev. Johnnie Green of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem told The Christian Post Tuesday while noting he hasn’t been getting much sleep.
“I get calls all times of the night. Every time my phone rings I wonder if it’s an announcement of another person either testing positive or another person dying so you know, I’m averaging about four hours of sleep per night. That’s it. It’s on my mind,” Green said.
Since his members began dying, the Harlem preacher, who leads a 1,200-member congregation, said he has only been able to bury two of them because a local funeral home serving the church has also been hit hard by coronavirus infections.
“The owner of the funeral home and several of the employees contracted COVID-19. People were getting sick going in and out of the funeral home so they mandated the funeral home be quarantined for 14 days which has delayed some burials,” he said. “We had three burials that were supposed to take place this week. Two burials and one cremation that has now been put on hold until May.”
Just 48 hours earlier, Green revealed to his congregation in a Facebook Live broadcast that 11 members had, died including nine from the coronavirus. Shortly before his interview with CP on Tuesday morning, he got a call that a 13th member of his congregation had passed away. The two new deaths were coronavirus-related, said Green and it has been “devastating,” he said.
“It hit so severely and so suddenly, it was sort of like being blindsided. It’s something that you don’t expect. You read in the Bible, you read the stories of people like Job and how he lost 10 of his children at one time and the impact that it had on Job’s life. Well I didn’t lose 10 children but I’ve lost 13 parishioners and the impact has been devastating.
“It’s like, you remember when the World Trade Center was hit, how those buildings were leveled? The same kind of shock that I experienced watching those buildings fall is the same kind of shock I’m experiencing as I watch members of our church fall to COVID-19. So it has been a shocker.”
He insisted, however, that he is standing on his faith even as he grapples with the reality that he, as well as many of his congregants, remain untested for the virus.
“I don’t think that God has picked our church out to pick on us. I believe God has allowed this to happen in our church for our church to demonstrate before the world what real faith in God looks like … Now we are learning that God can get us through the crisis … so we are depending on His Word,” he said. “We are walking by faith and we are believing God and trusting God for the outcome and we believe that when this virus comes to an end or when it’s brought under control or when there is a vaccine found … that our testimony as a church family will only be that much greater.”
When asked how he thinks so many members of his church got infected with the coronavirus, he said many of his members are essential workers from a variety of professions.
“Well, we have a large congregation. A lot of our members are essential workers. A lot of our people work in schools systems, they work in transit, they work in the hospitals, they work in law enforcement, and so many of them from different walks of life were exposed,” he said.
“So before we had knowledge of the virus, when I say knowledge we knew that it was out there, but before we could prepare and before the shutdowns were being ordered we were coming to church. And if you bring 600 or 700 people in the church at one time and five people are infected with the virus, it’s going to spread like wildfire and that’s what happened,” he said.
Green said his last in-person service was on March 15, five days before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the state to shut down on March 20 as the virus spread rapidly. At 12 a.m. that Friday, there were 7,100 cases of coronavirus statewide with more than 4,400 in New York City. By 6 p.m., New York City’s infection figure had surged to nearly 5,700.
Green said the infections at his church first became apparent after three members of his church’s choir contracted the virus.
“Three people in the choir contracted it and two died. One of our deaconess contracted it. She sat on the third row from the pulpit so there I was standing in the middle — three people infected in the choir, two or three people were infected in the congregation right in front of me,” he said.
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