Metro Pentecostal Church in Tulsa has lost several congregants and at least one pastor to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus currently spreading throughout Oklahoma, the country, and the world. One member spent 31 days on a ventilator. The head pastor fought and recovered from the illness.
Still, on Sunday, it became one of the first churches in Tulsa to reopen for in person worship service following Governor Kevin Stitt's orders to allow houses of worship to begin welcoming back congregations.
"Y'all look wonderful, even with your masks," said Michele Martin, wife of senior pastor Don Martin, to the first parishioners to come back to the pews since March.
Pastor Martin struck an at times defiant tone in his emotional sermon, which was peppered with names of church members who have died of the virus. He said that strong faith and in-person worship is necessary for the congregation to get through the pandemic.
"We're going to have church, and it's going to work!" he said. "Yes. And believe you me, there's a lot of forces out there that'd like to say, 'Let's just shut the churches down.' No, no, no, no!"
"They had plagues in Israel and they got over it," Pastor Martin said. "Somebody's going to put the branch in the water and the water's going to be okay. I think God's going to help us. Can I hear an amen, somebody?"
Martin said he still encouraged members of the congregation to wear masks and maintain social distancing, but that he believed that strong faith has made for a very high recovery rate in the congregation. The Martins, along with several members of the church band and ministry, did not wear masks for the service on Sunday.
Deaths associated with the church include 55-year-old Tulsa County resident Merle Dry, a pastor at the church and Oklahoma's first known COVID-19 death, and the parents of Israel Sauz, the 22-year-old Tulsa QuikTrip employee who remains one of the youngest people to die of the illness in the state so far.
Michele Martin said that when Dry died, she was overtaken with grief and unsure about reconvening the congregation for in-person worship.
"I walked all over this place. I cried, I cried, I cried, only God knows," she said. "I was like, 'everybody's going to die.' That's what the devil made me think."
"But the Lord finally gave me peace."
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 121 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the state's total to 3,972. 238 Oklahomans are known to have died. Tulsa County has the most confirmed deaths of any county in the state, at 34.