Historic Detroit churches face difficult decisions in wake of COVID-19


DETROIT – Places of worship around the world have turned to the internet during Holy Week to reach people.

For some historic churches this was a challenge.

Reverend Charles Adams admitted he initially didn’t know how dangerous COVID-19 is. Then members of his church began to die. He canceled personal services and still got an ear from unhappy members.

Update April 12, 3 p.m. – Michigan Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 24,638; The death toll now at 1,487

“I have succeeded my father who served here for 50 years, and there was a very well meaning, very loyal member of our ward who came up to me and said, ‘Your father would never have closed the doors to this church. ‘I said,’ Ma’am, I would like to believe he would, ‘”said Adams.

Adam said closing the doors of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, the first African American church on the west side of Detroit, was a difficult task.

The church sat empty on Easter Sunday and streamed its three services online. An estimated 2,000 people would be in attendance for services prior to the outbreak.

Adams said he doesn’t really understand how dangerous COVID-19 is, especially to the African American community. As members of his community, some of the most vulnerable to the virus, began to die, he knew he had to close the doors to slow the spread.

The Hartford Memorial Baptist Church has lost nine members so far.

“It was very painful,” said Adams. “Not just members we lost, but members of the intensive care unit as well.”

In addition to the nine deaths from COVID-19, others died of natural causes during the stay at home orders. Funerals are not held out of caution and families cannot say goodbye to loved ones.

Adams said there is one positive outcome that he has learned – and learned quickly – that the more than 100-year-old Church has been forced to update itself with technology for streaming services. He hopes that the rapid adaptation of the Church will enable other institutions to be quickly upgraded.

“I pray this can happen for our public school children on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Adams. “This crisis will create a greater commitment to introducing technology into their curriculum.”

Adams’s Easter message is a reminder that there is always something to look forward to, and this challenging time will not last forever.

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Dusty Kennedy