In 49 years as a pastor, the Rev. L.C. Ray has preached to congregations large and small. But spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNC Baptist Fellowship Church leader experienced a first on Sunday, April 26: addressing a computer amid empty pews while 50 or so of his congregants watched online from home.
His initial service was a tad shaky. “I just didn’t do my best,” the 81-year-old says. “It’s tough, but I’m getting more comfortable as the weeks go on.”
But as Ray’s beloved Scriptures say, there is a time to every purpose under heaven. “Doing these COVID services is causing me to get closer to the idea that you don’t have to be in the church for God to hear you,” he explains. “He’s everywhere.”
Along with religious guidance, Ray promotes safety measures implemented by state and local officials. As a senior citizen, the reverend knows he is among the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, based on available national statistics, he notes that African Americans account for roughly 34% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, despite representing only 13% of the population.
Still, the reverend says he understands the concerns raised by those arguing to reopen the economy. “When you’ve lost your job because of this, when you’ve been laid off and no income is coming in, it’s challenging, it’s hard, it’s beyond what other people could think,” he says. “But looking at both sides of it, we have to take the side of life. We don’t want anyone else to lose their life because of this.”
Not surprisingly, Ray finds solace during these trying times through religion. But his faith hasn’t mitigated all of his concerns and anxieties. Over his lifetime, the reverend says, “I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter what you know and how much you think you know — some things can make you afraid. And I’ve seen a lot of scared folk. I’ve been in that group as well. Even with faith, you have that fear. I guess that is the reason that we pray for God to give us more faith — but not to give us faith to take chances, but to give us faith to do the right thing. … You have to be concerned about others.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.