Breanna Reeves |
Important Message from the Editor:
Everyone has a story to tell about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IE Voice and Black Voice News is presenting this report in four parts, highlighting the journeys of inland empire residents during this ongoing, historic and pervasive event.
Meet Pastor Terry Starks of Rubidoux Missionary Baptist Church
Pastor Terry Starks has been preaching at the Rubidoux Missionary Baptist Church in Riverside since April 2011. He’s never experienced any changes to the church like those brought on as a result of the pandemic.
Massive gatherings were restricted during the pandemic, including congregants attending church service in person. The pandemic restrictions prompted churches across the state to find alternative ways of worshipping without being together in person.
“[M]y point is what happened with the pandemic is that literally all of us became tele-evangelists,” Pastor Starks said. “In one way or another — large church, megachurch or 50 people, we were all, one way or another, streaming our services or at the very least streaming the sermon and keeping the church connected through the live-stream and the internet and the 21st century technology.”
Some churches were outraged with the restrictions on indoor worship and opted to sue Governor Newsom for his restrictions, citing that the safety measure violated their First Amendment rights. Other churches, like Rubidoux Missionary Baptist Church, accepted the restrictions and found innovative ways to fellowship and worship online.
Rubidoux Missionary Baptist Church began utilizing Zoom and Facebook as a way of broadcasting their worship services and fellowshipping with congregants. Pastor Starks uses Zoom for members who are less tech savvy and can call in and listen to service. He uses Facebook as a way of engaging those who are watching by encouraging them to comment, like, ‘heart and thumbs up’ the broadcast.
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“And to the most part, I think our people have gotten real comfortable with how things are happening,” Pastor Starks said. “Even though . . . especially at the time of our fellowship, it reminds us that we’re still apart, it reminds us, I’m glad to see so and so’s face on the screen, but I’ll be happy to get back with them.”
Despite the desire to meet and worship in person, Pastor Starks is not ready to open up the church just yet. With the increased Delta variant cases in Los Angeles County, Pastor Starks and his colleagues are finding that many church goers aren’t comfortable attending service in person.
“It’s interesting what a lot of pastors were finding was that their response to coming back into their facilities was to a minority of members and not the majority of members,” Pastor Starks said. “That most folks, as much as they missed the physical attending of church and having the physical fellowship with other church members, they really weren’t ready to come back at this time. And so churches are finding out as a result of coming back, that at some level, the live stream lives on.”
For now, Pastor Starks is waiting and watching to determine how the church will proceed in the next few months. Rubidoux Missionary Baptist Church will be using a survey to gauge how their congregants feel about returning to the building for worship and how many are vaccinated or are considering being vaccinated.
“Being an African American church, predominantly, we have a lot of folks who are resistant to being vaccinated,” Pastor Starks said. “We have, in partnership with other local churches and with a church outreach program and in hand with our local Assemblywoman, offered now, three vaccination clinics for the community and one for our local homeless community.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), while nearly 70 percent of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccination, vaccination rates remain low among Black and Hispanic people compared to White people, as illustrated in the Black Voice News COVID Black California Dashboard.
The CDC reported racial/ ethnicity data for 58 percent of those who received at least one dose. The data revealed that of those partially vaccinated, 59 percent were White, 9 percent were Black, 16 percent were Hispanic, 6 percent were Asian and 1 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native.
Throughout the pandemic, Black churches have been called upon by President Joe Biden to facilitate COVID-19 testing and vaccinations among Black communities throughout the Inland Empire.
“And it’s just been a growing process through those early months: March, April, May and June,” said Pastor Starks. “And the church is aware that as far as I’m concerned, God is the one that told me to come out of the building, so it’ll be God who actually becomes the one that tells me when it’s time to go back and I wait to hear that.”
Churches and congregations may temporarily be unable to access their buildings, but they have made the most of the technology available today and have been able to maintain their relationships with one another and God despite the losses they have experienced as a result of the pandemic.
Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @_breereeves.