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‘We must stay on the wall’

Peace Presbyterian Church in Louisville continues to minister despite the pandemic

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Wayne Steele, Jr.

LOUISVILLE — As the COVID-19 virus spread across the country, statistics show that it impacted African Americans at a disproportionally high rate. In hot spots like New York, Detroit, New Orleans, and Chicago, Blacks died at alarmingly high rates.

And like so many other churches, the Black Presbyterian church was not exempt from the disproportionate adverse impact.

Last year when the Rev. Wayne Steele, Jr., pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church, a church with nearly 100 members in the Newburg area of Louisville, Kentucky, was asked how the Black Presbyterian Church was faring In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation, Steele, who has been the pastor for 20 of the 60 years of the church’s existence, said, “for our African American churches, we don’t have money that’s stored up. We don’t have nice endowments set aside for rainy days.”

Despite the limited resources and the lack of endowments, Steele says the church didn’t layoff staff which was a consideration in 2020. “Thanks be to God, a grant from the denomination, and the Presbyterian Board of Pensions relief, we didn’t have to lose any staff.”

Peace has not started in-person worship at this time but has formed an ad hoc committee to determine when the church might reopen.  “We’ve set up a committee to look at it, to pray about and to discern what the spirit of the Lord is saying to the church in reference to opening up with the guidelines of CDC [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the guidelines of the denomination and the guidelines of our local presbytery,” said Steele. “We want to make sure that we are safe and that we are inclusive of everybody.”

Determined to continue to serve their Newburg community during the pandemic, Peace strengthened its relationships with community-based organizations to form important partnerships.  “We partnered with the Newburg Neighborhood Association to provide COVID-19 testing within our community,” said Steele. “We also worked with the Newburg Ministerial Association to offer free COVID vaccines.”

Steele serves as the president of the Newburg Ministerial Association.

“I think the church feels good about the partnership(s) that we are doing,” noted Steele. Peace Presbyterian and Second Presbyterian Church have formed a partnership to maintain Peace’s food distribution in the Newburg community.

While the church already had a food pantry in place prior to the pandemic, Steele acknowledged the partnership with Second Presbyterian, and its Metro Council representative, Barbara Shanklin, has helped to expand its community ministry.

Steele says the church’s preaching ministry has also grown during the pandemic. “We’re livestreaming on Sunday morning and those watching are not only members of the church but many others who are not members are viewing the worship service,” he said.

“We have Carter Anderson who is in charge of our audio-visual ministry,” added Steele. “I thank God for him. He came to the church just in time. He came right before COVID-19 and is doing an outstanding job. Without him, I don’t believe we would have the type of livestream worship service on Sunday morning that we have right now.”

“God always provides what you need,” said Steele. “We are working with Carter to make sure that when we go back to in-person worship, that we can maintain this livestream audio-visual ministry.”

Steele says for now the church will maintain its 11 o’clock Sunday morning service. He says they are also experimenting with outdoor services.  “I really enjoyed the outdoor services,” said Steele. “For several Sundays we had worship service outside in the parking lot of the church that was really beautiful. We had a beautiful Easter Sunday service outside.”

“The outdoor service gave them [the members] an opportunity to have a community service and it all took place on the first Sunday of the month,” Steele said.  “That was a beautiful experience.  We got to see each other and got a chance to break bread together on the first Sunday. It was wonderful.”

“We have been able to keep the doors open,” said Steele. “I thank God for the financial aid from the denomination and the members have continued to give.”

According to Steele, members have not been giving at the level they were giving prior to COVID-19. “The members are giving steady enough to make sure that we keep the doors of the church open, pay our bills and continue to keep our staff on at the church. And that in itself is a blessing at this particular time.”

When asked about what church leaders have learned during the pandemic, Steele said, “I guess one thing is like Nehemiah. The city was destroyed, but Nehemiah made up his mind to rebuild the walls and rebuild the gates. And that’s where I’m at now. We are going to rebuild the walls and we going to rebuild the gates that are between our brothers and sisters. Like Nehemiah said, there’s no need for us to get weary in doing good. We are doing a great work and we have to stay on the wall.”

“The other thing that I take away from this is I believe it that the Spirit of the Lord had to close the church down,” said Steele. “The governor didn’t close it down. The president didn’t close it down, but the Spirit of the Lord closed it down because the Spirit of the Lord is getting ready to do a new thing,” preparing “to breathe a breath of a fresh spirit into the church.”

“In the African American community right here in the city of Louisville, we’ve not only got COVID-19 as a pandemic but we’ve got some other pandemics that are going on,” said Steele. “People keep killing people every day. People are going hungry. Just last Monday we served over 75 families, more than 200 people with boxes of food. And we’ve got a pandemic in our school system. Children are not getting educated the way that they need to be.”

“But there’s a song that we sing sometime at the church. And it’s simply a song that says, I feel like going on. Though trials … a pandemic may come on every hand, I feel, I feel like going on.

“And so that’s where I am. I feel like going on.”

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