Grassroots organization aids nearly 100 Knoxville churches with COVID-19 resources

The pulpit sits empty and the instruments are untouched at New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 11:55 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -The pulpit sits empty and the instruments are untouched at Friendship Baptist Church.

“One of the scriptures we quote is, ‘For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind,‘” Pastor Joseph Smith said.

Pastor Smith intends to keep the sanctuary empty until active COVID-19 cases go down. He said it’s not worth the risk.

“In this neighborhood, we’re under-served and underprivileged. We only go to the hospital if the ambulance carries us. Very rarely do we go for the physical or a check up. So, those are some things we are taking into consideration,” Smith said.

Smith and nearly 100 other minority faith leaders virtually meet with city officials and health professionals every week to get up-to-date information they relay to their communities. University of Tennessee Chief Medical Officer Keith Gray is on that call.

“People just naturally feel more comfortable with people like them, and it’s no different in the minority communities. They are more comfortable with people who are like them,” said Dr. Gray. “And, then when you start talking about COVID, a disease that already generates anxiety alone, you lay that on top of a community that already distrusts the health system, it becomes a big deal.”

Bridging that distrusting gap is grassroots organization C.O.N.N.E.C.T Ministries. Director Cynthia Finch is a medical social worker who thought to survey the churches.

“There’s a small percentage of churches that have gone back and those that have gone back are going back in phases. They didn’t just open back up,” Finch said.

From there, she came up with an open-access guide to help bring free testing sites to low-income areas and rallied local businesses to donate kits to several dozen churches. It’s all creating a new stream of resources for pastors like Smith who said he can, in return, empower the people he leads.

Pastor Smith has invited his congregation to the church’s parking lot for drive-in worship.

“The Bible says everything works for the good of those who love the Lord,” said Smith. “So, the fact is, I have to find the good in it.”

C.O.N.N.E.C.T Ministries recently hosted a free walk-up clinic along Magnolia Avenue where Finch said 200 people were tested.

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