Dr. Mark A. Minott is a Lead Elder, Lay Preacher, Independent Researcher, Teacher, and facilitator of online worship at Stockwell Green United Reformed Church, London.
My colleague Dr Paulina Kolata in her research update post dated 03/11/2020 on this very blog ended with the statement, “We are actively reaching out to communities representing minority voices including members of the Black Churches, as well as… We want to know how your ritual practice has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.”.
True to our words, we have reached out to a Black Majority Church (BMC) and a new Black Majority Church (nBMC). The term nBMC differentiates independent Pentecostal Black Majority Churches (BMCs) from those BMCs that are part of Historic Churches such as Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and the United Reformed Church (URC) (Olofinjana, 2013).
The topic of this article came from a phrase used by a study participant during an interview. The topic indicates an attitude associated with the case study churches. For boxing fans, to roll with the punches involves moving one's body away from an opponent's blows to lessen the impact. Plainly, this means adapting oneself to adverse circumstances.
So, exactly what’s involved with ‘rolling with the punches?’
Via interviews and observations of various rituals, we uncover the fact that Black churches were not exempt from ritual adaptations and the negative and positive experiences and effects of the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns. ‘Rolling with the punches’ include changing to the use of online platforms and the use of associated technology, changing ritual contents to suit being online and changes to the day-to-day operations. Recognizing and accepting that social distancing is a reality and removes in-person physical contact with members of the community outside of an immediate household.
An example of changes to the day-to-day operations of the churches involved taking holy water to the home of a family wishing to baptise a baby, without going in, and giving them instructions on what to do. Normally, this life cycle celebration, the baptism of a baby, would be done in the church among the congregation. Some pastoral activities such as visits to the homes of members were replaced with a phone call or sometimes did not take place.
Participants experience of adaptations included a sense of belonging or connectedness, faith being built and missed inter-personal physical contact. Also, fluctuating emotions revealed in the language of difficulty and hope.
The effects of the adaptations brought on by the pandemic either impacted the congregation as a whole or as individuals. For the participants, communal and or personal effects were displayed in words and actions such as a sense of freedom and autonomy; involvement; being determined and hopeful; lowering spirituality; increased spirituality; meeting new people; numerical growth and reaching out to others.
What are some things we learned from those who rolled with the punches?
Overall, there was a willingness and determination to attend to the challenges brought on by the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns.
I think we are rising up to it. We are making it work despite these drawbacks and, that is the most important thing, we are making it work! (Elder Mandus).
Olofinjana, I.O. ( 2013). Being Built Together Research Project https://israelolofinjana.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/being-built-together-research-project/