The Rev. Hasaan Johnson, pastor of Manna Church of God In Christ, has led the church since 2013. For the past three years, he’s also served funeral director and owner of Distinguished Memorial Chapels.
Due to the pandemic, Johnson and his wife and first lady, Jestine Johnson, closed Manna’s church doors. The couple decided to utilize their funeral home to provide church services to their congregation to attend an invite-only service.
“We’re trying to adhere to the CDC guidelines and create an environment that allows God to be a healer,” Johnson said. “We haven’t had service in the building since March, and we’ve been using the conference call and zoom for our services.”
Johnson didn’t think it was a smart idea to open up his church since the pandemic was on the rise. Instead, Johnson holds bi-weekly services at his funeral home but says members must be invited.
Johnson sends his congregation invitations and alternates weeks. Only five people are invited to attend per service and before having members enter the building, Johnson hires a local cleaning company to sanitize the building. The cleaning company comes back after service to sanitize the chapel again.
“It’s costly to maintain service of my kind when doing it the right way,” he said. “We spend $750-$1,000 every other week.”
During the pandemic, Johnson has held 200 funeral services related to COVID-19. Luckily, none of his church members were impacted by the virus.
Over two-thousand vaccines arrived in Philadelphia hospitals in mid-December. Johnson is encouraging his church members to trust the science but do their research before deciding to take the vaccine.
“I encourage them to please, please, please take the vaccine,” he said. “We have to trust the scientist. We know God is in control, but we have to trust the scientists. Masks can only help you temporarily.”
Johnson is helping his congregation stay proactive by pointing them in the right direction to receive assistance with food, housing, and electricity. Manna Church of God in Christ has approximately 80 members but Johnson is still trying to adjust with connecting and updating his church members. Johnson said its difficult.
“The communication with the parishioners, it’s tough to keep everybody in the loop,” Johnson said. “They’re used to help [from] the church. This pandemic is making people lose faith in the church. It’s difficult to keep people encouraged.”
Johnson understands his congregation and believes people can become fatigued when they stay away from the church for too long.
Evangelist Jestine Johnson, the first lady, supports her husband and church family during this difficult time by reminding members of God’s faithfulness.
“Being a wife and mother is my first obligation to taking care of my family,” she said. “As his rib, my job is to protect him spiritually and pray that God gives him strength.”
Although the Johnsons, have been hosting virtual services at home, the first lady said it’s an adjustment. “It’s a difficult atmosphere, but he still has support,” she said. “We are screaming as loud as we can to fill the room. We are learning to adjust with time.”
Johnson admits virtual services have benefits for the young adults who are more social media savvy. But older congregants also utilize conference calls and prayer lines. Johnson finds it hard for her parishioners to connect.
“We need each other more than before,” she said. “We have to come up with new ideas to stay connected.”
Despite the difficult time, Johnson still has faith in God.
“Our answer comes from the Lord,” she said. “If we follow the Bible, it lays out everything that happens today. We have our faith in the Lord individually and collectively.”
First Lady Johnson describes her husband as a seasoned and stabled leader who loves the Lord wholeheartedly.