St. Peter’s AME Church has a legacy in Minneapolis’ Black community going back to its inception in 1880. At its current location of 401 East 41st Street in south Minneapolis, presently pastored by Rev. Dr. Jon Robinson, it has been a rallying point in matters of social justice. Resiliency is one of its greatest strengths as a church, and the COVID-19 pandemic has put that resiliency to the test.
In March of 2020, the “normal” as we knew it of in-person worship, Sunday school, altar call, corporate prayer, fellowship, and the voices of a music ministry, changed with the advent of COVID-19. Rev. Robinson once posed a question to the congregation during a message the previous year: “If the doors of St. Peter’s were to close, would we be missed by the community?” Well, the doors were closed in a way we didn’t expect them to—all over the country. And as it turned out, we were missed.
Like churches around the country, and Black churches in particular, St. Peter’s faced challenges during this pandemic. The biggest was the loss of connectivity of an in-person service, coupled with a sense of isolation and confinement. As human beings, we crave that face-to-face contact with others. We hope to regain it, although we are aware that some may not return to in-person worship and continue to do so virtually.
Other challenges included the uncharted territory COVID-19 created, how services were conducted, how the science would fit our circumstances, and the restrictions placed upon the church that sprang from the pandemic, having the building access limited to essential workers.
Indeed, there were challenges. However, in those challenges, who we are and our strengths were revealed as well:
Despite the fact that it hadn’t been done before, our Media Ministry showed up and showed out with their creative skills and put our first virtual service together one week after the church closed. In addition to flexibility, our ability to adapt to the situation was revealed.
The absence of a choir, due to the CDC restrictions, did not stop the Music Ministry, for our St. Peter’s Trio stepped up to the plate with instrumental inspiration every week.
Although our doors were closed for in-person worship, members stayed close and connected through phone calls and virtual services, and we acknowledged each other’s strengths.
St. Peter’s became a ministry beyond the walls during this time. Outdoor services took place in our parking lot, care packages were delivered to seniors, meals were served to the homeless, and back-to-school backpacks for students were provided to the community.
Our virtual services attracted people we didn’t normally get to worship with us, from around the country.
As a trustee of the church, I had firsthand experience of one of the effects of the pandemic: it has shown us more of who we are. How adaptable am I? How flexible am I to changing requirements? How will the needs of our physical facilities continue to be met? Can I go the distance? With the church being restricted to essential personnel, Zoom meetings became my new normal, and it required me to step up my leadership role in partnership with our other ministries.
As with other churches, St. Peter’s is reopening with the procedures in compliance with CDC and local health department guidelines. A hybrid service of in-person and virtual worship is our new normal. Shared by members, here are some of their visions for St. Peter’s as we go forward in our new reality:
We aren’t “coming back”; there is no return to where we were before COVID. We’re going forward.
To take this new hybrid format for service as an opportunity to grow our church, thus bringing a new side to it.
To reach beyond the areas we touched before the pandemic.
As part of the new reality, the importance of attracting younger members, including community leaders and families with children.
To do more outreach in the community in a sustained way, with a stronger community connection.
Continued outreach to our senior members.
As a church body, we of St. Peter’s AME are resilient. We are survivors. As we reopen on September 19, in the motto of my high school graduating class, we are “blessed and still standing.”