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West Virginia Churchgoer Reflects On Faith During The COVID-19 Pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The past five months, we've heard from people all over the country about how the pandemic has affected them. Mary Tate is the secretary of Morning Star Baptist Church in Marion County, W.V.

MARY TATE: I'm 66 years old. So I've been in the church since I was probably a month or 2 months old, so I'm going to say 65.9 months.

SIMON: Said with the accuracy of a retired middle school teacher.

TATE: It's a community where everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows everybody's business, which is kind of funny, but it's true.

SIMON: And here's what going to church used to be like.

TATE: There was lots and lots and lots of hugs. Of course, you have a choir that sings every Sunday. And then our minister delivers the word, and we go home.

SIMON: Morning Star is connected with several other Black Baptist churches in the area, and they come together a few times a year. They gathered together in mid-March to worship. And all the hugging and the singing touched off one of the first coronavirus outbreaks in West Virginia.

TATE: One of our members got sick. We were instructed that everyone who was around her to be tested, and several were positive with the virus. I tested negative, but my daughter was diagnosed with the virus. Then, you know, it really hit you. This is not a play thing. This thing is for real.

So the first lady in Marion County to pass away was a member of our church. In fact, I sang next to her on that Sunday. And she was 88 years old.

There were maybe 11, 12 people that had the virus. Three or four of them were hospitalized for maybe two weeks, three weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TATE: During the first few months, we did church virtually. Not having that closeness, you know, sometimes you thought you were pulling away from each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TATE: But I would call, especially our older members, to make sure they were OK, to make sure that they, you know, had everything they needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TATE: The first Sunday in June, we had services outside. I just felt just real excited and happy to see people that you hadn't really seen for three months. Naturally, you know, you went to hug, and, oh, we can't hug, so, you know, you hit the elbow or the fist.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TATE: The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?

My faith has gotten stronger. I have been to a few funerals. I have worn my mask. But at the same time, I just ask God to be with me and protect me. And I got to do this. And, bam, you know, I do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TATE: Even though we are in this difficult time, we still have to give God all the praise and all the glory.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Mary Tate of Marion County, W.V. Case numbers there have recently increased, so after a few weeks of outdoor services, their church has returned to online worship. The parishioners continue to pray for each other and for all of us as this pandemic continues.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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