STONECREST, Ga. – New Birth Pastor, Dr. Jamal Bryant celebrated his third anniversary as senior pastor. For two of those three years, he delivered sermons virtually thanks to COVID. As of March 2020, the New Birth Shrine in Stonecrest has been empty.
“We thought it was going to be six weeks, thought maybe a month. ‘Okay everyone, we’ll see you on Memorial Day weekend,'” says Dr Bryant, recalling when the country went into lockdown .
“Then it was the 4th of July, Labor Day weekend. Then it was ‘oh, it’s here! “…The hard part was [determining] when do we open?! We knew we had to close. We closed immediately.”
So, like the rest of the world, New Birth has gone virtual – and really used its creativity to make the Sunday morning online experience an impactful experience.
“We did church from Air BNB. We did church from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. We did church from museums. Wherever you were mobile, you could worship. -windows windows and released him around the corner,” he said.
Last year many churches resumed in-person worship, but not New Birth. It was not a decision they were prepared to make or could make with COVID disproportionately affecting the black community and their church family.
“Last year in 2021…135 funerals. Just for 2021. As long as we have one full-time person who only does funerals. You do 135, which averages out to two funerals a week,” he said. Bryant said.
With case rates improving in DeKalb County and statewide, New Birth is reopening to in-person fellowship by setting a date for Easter weekend.
“It’s going to be the hallowed Essence festival. Come with everything but a cooler. We’re coming for a family reunion. We can kiss again. Being able to worship so we can see each other. It’s not just church, it’s the family is the community.
New Birth has done a lot of outreach in the community during COVID. The church has fed more than 850,000 people during the pandemic, so families won’t go hungry.
Also in three years, Bryant says they were able to cut their $30 million debt in half thanks to the generosity of church donations.
New Birth plans to officially reopen on Good Friday, April 15 with special guests Bishop TD Jakes and award-winning gospel artist John P. Kee at 7:30 p.m.
The church’s reopening activities, called “The Return,” will culminate on Resurrection Sunday, April 17, with gospel artist VaShawn Mitchell and Bryant speaking to his congregation in person beginning at 9:30 a.m.
All scheduled events will take place at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church located at 6400 Woodrow Road in Stonecrest.