The Rev. Dr. Miriam J. Burnett is a practicing physician who serves as president of Resource And Promotion of Health Alliance, Inc. and medical director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Health Commission. | Miriam J. Burnett
For more than a decade, the Rev. Dr. Miriam J. Burnett, a practicing physician and public health expert who serves as the medical director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Health Commission, has been preparing her church and the wider denomination for a pandemic.
Earlier this year, as soon as she realized the new coronavirus was a global threat and long before it was confirmed as spreading across the United States, Burnett quickly made her plan available to the approximately 7,000 congregations consisting of nearly 4,000 pastors and 2.5 million members around the globe.
“As the AME Church International Health Commission’s medical director, I jumped on this very early,” Burnett told The Christian Post in an interview Monday.
Since 2008, said Burnett, the AME Church through its Health Commission has had the Church Preparation and Response to Potential Pandemics plan and it has been revised three times since then. The latest revision came in mid-February when Burnett, who leads Historic Jones Tabernacle AME Church, held her last in-person service with her congregants.
“As members of the AME Church we must work together, follow basic infection control and behavior modification to decrease the spread of illness and disease. Faith is the key that will empower us to become educated and collaborate during these times of concern,” the pandemic plan states. It then goes on for four pages sharing guidance on social distancing and other possible interventions to manage a crisis and limit the spread of disease.
When asked how she first discussed the threat with her local church, which has about 95 members on record, Burnett said it wasn’t an abrupt shutdown. She first discussed the situation with her leadership team, then the general church body after learning how churches in Europe were being impacted by the coronavirus.
“Because I am a connectional officer, they are very in tune to what’s going on in the church worldwide,” Burnett said of her home church.
“And so when I said we’re going to take this pre-emptive strike, we had a phased approach: There would only be 10 of us in the sanctuary. We’ll video conference it (the service). The rest need to stay home and then I laid out that plan. I reviewed the four-page document with them on pandemics,” she said.
While the AME church in general has “lost a few pastors” and members to the virus, Burnett believes the impact of the virus on the first independent Protestant denomination to be founded by black people, and one of the largest Methodist denominations in the world, has been “significantly mitigated” because the church had a strong “connectional response” to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Church of God in Christ, America’s biggest African-American Pentecostal denomination, has reportedly lost at least a dozen to up to 30 bishops and prominent clergy to the coronavirus. Leadership meetings were still being held in mid-March, The Washington Post reported.
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