In times like these, many of us are turning to faith to guide us through the pandemic. For many in Black communities, it’s tough because a lot of services offered can’t be done in person. But two pastors in Southwest Florida have found unique solutions to keep their congregations engaged in a virtual way.
Church leaders we spoke to Monday remain the centerpieces of their communities during a time when it might be hard to keep community together.
Pastor James Bing has led Friendship Baptist Church for 46 years in Fort Myers. He remembers back when Lee County was a different Lee County, a place where racial segregation still existed. He remembers when the church was one of a handful of places where Black people felt welcomed.
“There are some people who were dependent upon the voice that came from the pulpit for their daily activity and their daily response to what was going on in the culture,” Bing explained.
It was that influence that call to leadership that became a draw for Pastor Bing and Pastor William Glover to the church — To offer hope. To fight for justice. To be leaders.
“One of the reasons that preachers were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement was because we we’re not dependent upon the white community for our living,” Bing said.
“The African American pastor historically has always stood in that place to be social prophets, not only religious but social prophets,” said Pastor Glover of Mount Hermon Ministries in Fort Myers.
In 2021, Bing and Glover both face new challenges, with the pandemic being among them. Their church buildings are closed. Their pews are empty. Their services are virtual, so they must find creative ways to offer hope, to be leaders their congregations can depend on.
Bing uses his cell phone, texting Bitmojis and personalized messages to each member of his church multiple days a week.
“You pick your messages to address hopefully the needs of the individual to whom you are sending the text or the email, and I found that to be very helpful,” Bing said.
Like many others, Pastor Bing, who is 83 years old, struggled to get the coronavirus vaccine, so he made that his mission. Now, his church partners with Lee County to serve the Black community.
Pastor Glover’s church is part of that effort too. He’s using his voice and his church to reach people who otherwise might not get the vaccine.
“We’re having to do some education regarding why, as people of color, we need to get the vaccination and overcome the fear and conspiracy theories,” Glover said.
What the pandemic has done is prove to Glover the church can still thrive even when its members don’t gather every Sunday.
“While we were not able to gather in a brick –and-mortar building, we continue to be a body of Christ,” Glover said. “We continue to be his voice. We continue to be his hands.”
Both pastors told us they’re learning to adapt to having services virtually, but both agree they miss seeing their congregations and pray they can get back to in person services very soon.
“A strong church represents a strong enduring community,” said.