Charlotte minister oversees more than 100 COVID-related funerals

J.R. Covington has seen his cherished place of worship evolve into a revolving door of grief.
J.R. Covington has seen his cherished place of worship evolve into a revolving door of grief.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 10:01 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Three years ago, we knew it was dire.

Hospitals filled to overflowing, and a new system of required do’s and don’ts needed for survival.

Without question, families, individuals, and communities endured staggering losses connected to covid, and congregations also felt the pain and loss.

J.R. Covington, an Associate Pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, has seen his cherished place of worship evolve into a revolving door of grief.

“There were times when we’d have four funerals in a seven-day period, because we would do funerals every day except Sunday. " Covington said, “I want you to understand, of the 117 deaths that died in that period of time, whether they call it 24 months or 26 months, we buried, I helped officiate, didn’t preach all of them, but officiated 117 deaths that took place. Not only here, but the funerals here.”

Services happening in the so called COVID era.

Reverend Covington didn’t always go at it alone. One of those he depended on was Alfred Alexander of Alexander Funeral Home.

“Churches had kind of closed down where you had to start thinking of other ways to remember the dead. People started doing more chapel services. People started doing more graveside services,” Alexander said.

Safety in cemeteries remains a chief concern in saying final goodbyes.

Earlier this month, members of the Friendship Congregation learned of the toll it was taking on Reverend Covington.

While recognizing his wife Cookie at a recent service and giving thanks for her support, his unexpected words put church members at the edges of their seats.

Covington told church members, “We dealt with 117 families during COVID. I committed all of those bodies.”

Despite appreciation from this congregation, more riveting words cut like a razor.

“You’re not gonna see me much. It’s not because I don’t like you,” he said.

In other words, he’s stepping down.

J.R. Covington has been a member of Friendship for 46 years starting at the old location, and on pastoral staff for the last 28 years.

However, it was the wear and tear of such a brutal pandemic influencing his decision to step down.

“So I felt it was time and somehow another, in God’s own way, he told me it was time and I was affirmed. And when I did, I let my pastor know,” he said.

Reverend Covington said it’s not retirement or a resignation, but views his latest action as “hiatus”.