Black churches in Philly region slowly welcome back members to sanctuary

ABINGTON TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Some Black churches in the Delaware Valley have resumed in-person services after the COVID-19 pandemic forced sweeping changes to indoor gatherings.

Reverend Robert Collier, the leader of the Philadelphia Black Clergy, was behind the pulpit himself for the first time on Sunday. He issued a message of gratitude after a challenging year with the congregation being apart. He said there were only about 10 members in the actual sanctuary.

"It's important to us because we as a faith community thrive on being together. We thrive on one another's energy," said Collier.

His church, Galilee Baptist in Roxborough, was one of the few Black churches that made the prayerful decision to bring worship back into the sanctuary. The big ask is that all returning members must be vaccinated.

"We don't want to invade people's privacy, but we do it on an honor system," Collier added.

While he acknowledges that not every church is at the same point, the pastor said fortunately more churches are making plans to bring everyone back.

Meanwhile, Salem Baptist Church of Abington, Pennsylvania has been holding services for less than 15 people since November.

"We have a small amount of people who might have experienced loss or who live alone and we know this might be a benefit for them," said Reverend Marshall Mitchell.

Mitchell, who is also with the Black Doctors Covid Consortium, said for now they are primarily fully virtual.

"When you weigh the benefits of people being together versus the downside -- funerals -- if we're able to reach people over the phones or online, then why not take advantage of that," Mitchell questioned.

There are still a decent number of Black churches in the same boat leary about bringing members back safely. One of the big issues several pastors are concerned about is how to keep people six feet apart when church is known for being a place where people hug and shake hands.

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