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Harlem church mourning 11 members who died from COVID-19

"When my phone rings, I'm always worried: Is it going to be another call with bad news?" the senior pastor at Harlem's Mount Neboh Baptist Church said.
Image: Mount Neboh Baptist Church
Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, NY.Google

Dr. Johnnie Green, the senior pastor at Harlem's Mount Neboh Baptist Church, says his congregation believes that faith in God is not authentic unless it's been tested.

Image: Ruth Ann-Cohen Aikens
Pastor's Aide President Ruth Ann-Cohen Aikens.Courtesy Mount Neboh Baptist Church

Recent weeks have "absolutely" been a test, he said. The predominantly black church, first organized in a home in 1937, has lost 11 members to the coronavirus illness COVID-19 in an epidemic that has hit New York City hard.

"I believe that we're going to come out stronger," Green said Tuesday. "We know that all things work together for the good to them that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Green said the 82-year-old Baptist church has been busy ministering and offering comfort to its members who have been impacted by the coronavirus epidemic. He's been getting around four hours of sleep a night.

Image: Janee Funchess
Choir member Janee FunchessCourtesy Mount Neboh Baptist Church

"When my phone rings, I'm always worried: Is it going to be another call with bad news?" Green said.

As of Tuesday, more than 9,500 people in New York City have died after testing positive for COVID-19 and the deaths of more than 4,800 others who did not have a positive lab tests are being called probable cases, according to the city health department.

Among those lost are Mount Neboh Baptist Church members James E. Thomas, Ruth Ann-Cohen Aikens, Shirley Miller and Janee Funchess.

"These were wonderful people," Green said.

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New York state has more than 251,600 coronavirus cases, according to the state health department. More than 19,200 people had died in the state as of Tuesday, according to an NBC News count of reports.

Image: Shirley Miller
Deaconess Shirley Miller.Courtesy Mount Neboh Baptist Church

As in some other parts of the country, African Americans appear to make up a larger percentage of deaths than their percentage of the population, according to the state health department's website, although it cautions the data is preliminary.

A walk-up testing site opened near the church in Harlem this week. Green thinks it should have been established sooner. "It speaks to inequality. It speaks to the disparities that are common in the black and brown community," he said.

But despite the heartache and the tragedy, he believes his church will emerge stronger.

Image: James Thomas
Trustee Emeritus James E. Thomas.Courtesy Mount Neboh Baptist Church

"Our church will rebound. Our church will do what it always does," Green said. "We'll take in new parishioners, but the people that we are losing are sort of iconic members. They will never be replaced."

"We are Mount Neboh strong. So we will continue to deposit our faith and trust in God," he said. "We will continue to lean on one another as we have been doing. And when this virus is over, I believe that we will come out stronger and better."