A line wrapped around the corner is a familiar sight to Pastor Bernard Taylor. Families in need know when they come to this Brooklyn church, they’ll be met with open arms and with a helping hand.
“It means a lot, a whole lot for the community,” said Maureen Waters, who drives more than an hour to get food and supplies for herself and her grandkids.
“We feed up to 100 and 5,000 people per year, and the number, quite naturally, is going to grow due to the pandemic,” said Pastor Taylor.
More people need fresh food, school supplies, and clothing than ever before, and the Open Door Church of God in Christ provides it all.
“We’re here rain, sun, hail, snowstorm, we are here,” said one volunteer.
However, the pandemic is just as threatening to the church as it is to the community.
“Some people have lost their homes. Some people can't make ends meet, and some people are really struggling,” said Taylor. “And if they're struggling, we struggle, because it's a trickle-down effect. If they're not receiving, then they can't give."
Because of the pandemic, this church, like so many across the country, has shifted to online services. The empty pews often translate into near-empty collection baskets, leaving the church’s staff and its programs in a tough spot.
“The payroll department has suffered because we don't have no streams of income to really satisfy or to cover that budget,” said the pastor. “It’s been many times that I’ve said, ‘Well I don't know what we're going to do.’”
The business behind many churches in the United States is in for a long recovery.
The Barna Group found 1 in 3 people who regularly attended church have stopped watching online services, leaving fewer involved parishioners ready to donate.
A leader with Lifeway Research, a group studying churches, estimates 5% of churches will close permanently before the end of the year because of COVID-19. That number is five times higher than typical yearly closures.
The question of a church’s survival made even heavier by the loss of life many churches have seen. For the Open Door Church of God in Christ, 19 church members have passed away during the pandemic.
“We had some ushers that passed away. That was essential. Some nurses that passed away, and just so many members that I loved so much, and I miss each and every one of them,” said Taylor.
Many of those church members also substantially supported the church’s finances. Their loss has caused such a ripple effect; Pastor Taylor had to step in to help his congregation.
“I had to put in $5,000 of my own personal money at one time just to see the payroll get taken care of, and I don't look for it back. I give it from my heart, and whatever I have to do, I give my last to make sure people have,” he said.
To make sure this church could survive, a group called Churches Helping Churches also got involved, donating $3,000 to this church and others across the nation that offer their community more than a house of worship.
“I’m not working, so I’m glad I can come here,” said Maureen Waters. “I’m not hungry anymore, so it’s good.”
Pastor Taylor fears if his church can’t serve the community, they will lose something greater than a place to gather.
"What's at stake is people lose hope, and we don't want people to lose hope," he said. "We want people to always know that they can depend on what they always depend on and that is the church being the church."
Pastor Taylor he has a plan to make sure his business of helping others stays in business for good.
“We have to make sure that we do three things. Number one, we have to adjust. We have to adapt, and then, we can overcome."
Adapting to a life of coming together while staying apart to overcome the hunger in the community—in both body and soul.
If you would like to help a local church that may be forced to close its doors, you can donate to Churches Helping Churches.