Masks being provided by health department

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — Its Thursday. The Weekly meeting at 5 pm with Vice Mayor McKenzie, Community Leader Cynthia Finch, and the every growing number of African American Pastors and Faith Leaders has begun.The numbers of churches on the call has grown to over sixty. The meetings have an agenda and action items and never last more than an hour. They open and close with prayer. They share information and updates.

Associate Pastor Becky Smith of Eternal Life Harvest Center raises her hand during drive by service on Mother’s Day. Photo submitted

They are all of one accord. On the horizon is the reason for the gathering of these great minds. The reopening of the black churches in Knoxville and Knox and surrounding surrounding counties. Each week valuable information is shared by McKenzie and Finch.

They are determined the African American community be kept in the loop on what is going on as it pertains COVID-19 and  the safety and well being of the parishioners served in the community. The calls are also being used to announce the free testing sites within their communities, food sites, and how to get free masks.

They have received valuable information from top leaders and subject matter experts like Doctor Keith Gray, who has advised against sending young children and the elderly back into the sanctuaries too soon. Counseling services and other mental health resources are being shared. They have even heard from State Representative Rick Staples about the sharing of covid-19 results with law enforcement and the work the Black Caucus is doing to stop the sharing of covid-19 results.

The information shared has proved to be valuable insight as new cases of Kawasaki Syndrome and Pediatric Pulmonary illness are surfacing affecting children nationwide. Cynthia Finch is researching sanitation companies for churches who need deep cleaning and defogging. There is even discussion on how to collectively get supplies such as contactless thermometers, gloves, and masks for every member of the congregations.

Some churches, such as Eternal Life Harvest Center have been holding parking lot services in the last few weeks,

Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie assertively pushes to keep the people informed.
Photos by Vivian Shipe

making sure they are compliant with the heath guidelines from the state. They built a staging area and they preach to the people who sit in their cars and they broadcast thru WJBE radio station for their appointed time slot. Others, unable to offer drive thru services are still doing everything they can do to keep the word of God flowing during the pandemic until they can open the doors. Churches have been using telephone conferencing and Zoom meetings to keep their flocks together. Other churches whose members fall into the age groups that have been adversely affected are taking a slower approach with some looking to open in the summer and others waiting until Fall.

Vice Mayor McKenzie has also worked to provide accurate information, she shares the number of positive cases and death numbers. She and Finch have also worked with the Knox County Health department to provide a handout for those who are tested on what to expect after testing. She has been giving the numbers from each testing sites and encouraged the pastors who choose to do so to be at the testing sites to provide prayer on site for those who need it to  allay the fear in the

Reverend Joe Smith whose church is in the largest inner-city test site, stands behind Community leader Cynthia Finch on the front lines.

community. Vice Mayor McKenzie is also meeting with the CEO of KUB to discuss the utility bills that people are facing.

May 16th was set as the date for an in service conference call to present a tool kit together for churches with all the products and lists for every church who sends Vice Mayor McKenzie their email. The tool kits, developed by Finch, will have product samples, guides to reopen churches, bulk ordering for gloves, thermometers, masks and other products. Tool kits will be distributed to the churches who come by the Connect Ministry Building. Subject matter experts will also be on the in service meeting to share resources and make sure the churches have everything they need for reopening.