DETROIT — The first week of April, the Rev. Kenneth Flowers had a slight dry cough, body aches and a bad headache. His 90-year-old mother he helped take care of had tested positive for the coronavirus a few days earlier, and so he asked his doctor whether he should get a test.
But, like many at the time, the pastor of Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit was told he didn’t have enough severe symptoms such as breathing problems or a very high fever to get a test. After Flowers’ wife tested positive, though, he asked his doctor again and was given a test on April 16. The following week, he got the results: positive.
Flowers hasn’t been hospitalized and is still able to serve as leader of the Detroit church, delivering online sermons and Bible studies every week.
“I will not let this virus keep me down,” said Flowers, who’s also active in interfaith and civil rights advocacy in Michigan. “I still preached every Sunday, I praise God that I have not missed a beat. … I have not yet missed a service, not one Bible service, even when I was shivering with aches and pains. Only by God’s grace have I been making it.”
Flowers is the latest prominent Detroit pastor to have been diagnosed in a pandemic that has killed more than 1,000 across the city. The Rev. Marvin Winans, pastor of Detroit’s Perfecting Church, and the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, pastor of of New Destiny Christian Fellowship in Detroit, are two other noted Detroit pastors who also have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but are both recovering. Other faith leaders, including some with the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) denomination, have died from the virus.
The Muslim community has also been affected: Abdelfattah Abdrabbo, a Muslim community leader in Michigan known as Abu Rami, died Monday of the coronavirus, according to the American Muslim Community Foundation.
The virus has ripped through churches and congregations over the past couple of months, affecting many and causing uncertainty for the future of faith institutions. At Flowers’ church, more than 20 have tested positive for the coronavirus and several have died, Flowers said. Some have also died at Sheffield’s church.
“Every day, I’ve lost a friend, I’ve lost a family member, I’ve lost someone in my church from this deadly virus,” Sheffield, a civil rights advocate, said in a video he posted earlier this month after recovering. “This is for real.”
Sheffield urged Detroiters to stay indoors.
If you go out and violate social distancing, “you’re playing with death. It’s like a form of Russian roulette in germ and virus form. … Stay home, don’t go out … until this thing has passed because the life you save may be your own and it may be someone you know or someone you love.”
Sheffield said he may have gotten the virus after visiting New York City last month for a meeting with civil rights advocates. Flowers said he may have gotten the virus from his mother, whom he had taken to the hospital after she had coronavirus symptoms.
Flowers said his mother may have gotten it from his niece when his mother was visiting his sister, and he believes that he passed on the virus to his wife.
Flowers said it’s important for people to remain positive even if they get the virus.
“You have to stay spiritual, stay connected,” Flowers said. “I’m always upbeat, I’m always active. … I don’t try to play the blame game and say, my niece gave it to me. That’s being counterproductive, and a negative spirit will cause me to be more sick.”
‘This is how we love our neighbors’
Flowers also urged Detroiters to follow social distancing and not congregate outside the home for church or other gatherings.
His views are echoed by three Episcopal bishops in Michigan who wrote an open letter last week titled: “We believe in Jesus, science and staying home.”
“As the Episcopal Bishops of the State of Michigan and as a people of faith, we follow the commandment Jesus gave us – to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves,’ “ wrote the Rt. Rev. Bonnie Perry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, the Rt. Rev. Whayne Hougland, Bishop of the Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern & Western Michigan, and the Rt. Rev. Rayford Ray, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. “Loving our neighbors these days in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic means setting limits: quarantining, refraining from traveling, physical distancing when in public, and closing down places of gathering where transmission is likely. This is how we love our neighbors – by working to slow the spread of this extremely contagious, life-threatening virus.”
The letter noted that they have shut down all the Episcopal churches in Michigan, saying they support Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order. They also said “this pandemic has exposed injustices already present in our society: racism, hunger, health care, a living wage, housing insecurity and access to education.”
‘I will never leave you’
The morning of April 21, a few days after he was tested for the coronavirus but didn’t have the results yet, Flowers recalls becoming emotional while talking to his siblings on the phone.
“I had broke down Tuesday morning crying about my mom, I became overwhelmed,” Flowers said. That evening, he had to teach a Bible studies class online, citing the Book of Joshua, Chapter 1, where God says to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous … “
Flowers said he ministered with those words to encourage others, and has also applied them to his own situation.
“We have to use this time to look inwardly and ask ourselves: What are we doing to help people, to help others?” Flowers said. “It should cause us to love each other more, be more caring, be more compassionate.”