As the region slowly returns to some semblance of normal, many churches are preparing to reopen in June.
In an effort to keep congregations healthy, the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, the Baptist Minister’s Union, and 24:1 Clergy Coalition are distributing more than 125,000 masks to St. Louis city and County churches that plan to resume services next month.
The Rev. Darryl Gray, the political advisor for the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, said the groups have been distributing masks since Tuesday, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. More than 150 churches throughout the region showed up to claim masks.
“You would think that it was Christmas all over again,” Gray said. “But I think people realize the danger. And so, I think people were appreciative to the governor and to the county executive for making this available and letting people know that folks do care. We’re looking at the deaths in the black community, and oftentimes we wonder if anybody cares, if anybody’s paying attention.”
They requested the masks from St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson and Gov. Mike Parson. With the money available through the federal economic relief package known as the CARES Act, Page was able to get 100,000 masks and the governor was able to provide 25,000. Gray said it’s unclear how many masks the city will provide.
The Rev. Rodrick Burton, the pastor at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, a predominantly black church in Jennings, said it's especially critical for black churches to have access to masks.
“Disproportionately, in our city and all across this country, African Americans and people of color are suffering from this virus,” Burton said. “And so, we have to advocate and make sure that we have what we need for people to come together.”
Burton said he isn’t planning on opening his church anytime soon. Instead, he will continue to do livestream services and hold weekly conference calls with his members. But not all churches have memberships that have access to high speed internet connections. As a result, the digital divide has forced many churches to open their doors.
“We have people that have been disconnected from their house of faith, because of no access to broadband internet,” Burton said. “People are going to be coming, because they’ve been disconnected. And so, we have to be prepared for that.”
In addition to masks, Gray has been pushing to get more testing sites at area churches. Shalom Church City of Peace in Florissant and Westside Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis have done testing at their churches.
“We’ve gotten requests from over a dozen churches to create sites as well,” Gray said. “We’re just simply waiting on the government to say, 'Yes, we’re going to do this.' We already have an agreement with CareSTL Health and Affinia Healthcare.”
The groups distributed masks to city churches on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Churches and pastors in St. Louis County can get masks at Mt. Beulah Missionary Baptist Church Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.