The social environment inside African-American churches is widely known as very affectionate. It’s where hugging, handshaking and touching seem essential to showing one another God’s love and affection.

But now that the pandemic has barred churches from such activities, churches have had to learn how to adapt to a new reality.

Some reopened churches have had to eliminate their fellowship periods and add separate pews to prevent members from sitting too close to each other, measures that seem to limit the social element churches are so well-known for.

Many churches that have reopened like St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Kansas City and First Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas, also require members to wear masks and get their temperature checked upon entry.

Now that social distancing has become a new requirement for opening churches, will church still feel the same?

Pastor Roderick Houston at Mt. Olive Tabernacle of Praise Church in Wichita said he believes when they open up, it will still feel like church because his delivery of the Bible will not change. “The spirit will still be there,” he said. “We just won’t be touching each other and that’ll be the difference.”

Pastor Pamela Mason at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wichita said just being in each other’s presence would make up for the restrictions on hugging, since they have been prevented from meeting together for so long.

“The spirit dwells within us on the inside,” Mason said. “I believe it will be even more powerful than it was before.”

While not open yet, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church has continuously used Facebook Live and Zoom for services and bible studies over the course of the pandemic. The church has also created drive-ups where members can receive portable communion and worship guides on Sundays.

Other churches that have not opened yet are continuing to find ways to stay in touch with their members when they can safely do so.

Pastor LaRon Thompson at Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City said, “Although we’re not functioning in the building, I think it’s still our duty to share the gospel and open that door for salvation for somebody.”

Continuing his ministry despite the closure, Thompson organized drive-by prayers, where he prays over members outside their car. Paseo has also held a “Park and Praise,” where church members could watch an outdoor worship service from their vehicles.

Also adapting to the closure, Houston said he makes weekly phone calls to his congregations and meets with a couple people at a time to keep in contact and pray.

Although Houston has been able to keep in contact with the congregation throughout the pandemic at a distance, he said, “nothing beats coming to the house of God and coming to one place with like-minded believers fellowshipping together.”

– Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.

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