CHICAGO -- He was scared and had good reason to be. He was over age 60. He had health issues. And the global COVID-19 death toll was mounting.
So, as the Rev. Walter Johnson Jr. lay in the hospital bed, isolated from his family for two weeks, the doubt began to creep in. Being infected with the novel coronavirus pushed a man who has been devoted to ministry since age 16 to question the very God he's spent most of his life endorsing.
"Lord, why me?" Johnson, the pastor at Greater Institutional AME Church, recalled asking as he lay in his hospital bed. "Why now?"
Johnson was one of the lucky ones and escaped Northwestern Memorial Hospital with his life. And somehow, the ordeal fortified his faith.
A recent Pew Research study found that like Johnson, 1 in 4 Americans said the coronavirus pandemic has deepened their faith. Only 2% said the pandemic has weakened their faith. The study also found the trend of strengthened faith was more pronounced among black American adults. Forty-one% of black adults said their faith is stronger, compared with 20% of white adults and 30% of Hispanic adults.
And 56% of people who attend historically black churches say their faith has intensified during the pandemic, higher than any other group.
Nichole Phillips, director of Black Church Studies at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, said the trend of stronger faith among black Americans is linked to the role the black church historically has played in the African American community.
The church has been a place of refuge and a fortress for black people against a hostile world, Phillips said.
"COVID-19 has caused crisis and trauma throughout the world, so it makes sense that black people would find an institution that provides the hope, the stability, as well as the understanding of the historic suffering Black folks have been through," Phillips said.
It's usually in the sanctuaries of black churches where the community's religion and worship can be seen in all its majesty -- with gospel choirs singing and spirited pastors preaching. The Rev. Craig Robinson Jr., pastor at St. James AME Church, 9256 S. Lafayette Ave. in the Princeton Park neighborhood, said his congregation's ability to remain connected online when they can't have that customary physical connection has strengthened his faith.