Absorbing all the anguish

Rev. Darryl Winston, lead pastor at Greater Works Assembly, says that members of his own congregation have died of COVID-19. “The effects of trauma can take a toll on you,” he says says. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Rev. Darryl Winston, lead pastor at Greater Works Assembly, says that members of his own congregation have died of COVID-19. “The effects of trauma can take a toll on you,” he says says. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Atlanta pastors, grief counselors feel weight of continuing need for comfort

Darryl Winston has spent the past year consoling people in grief from the pandemic. He is a pastor in Atlanta, and he also operates a network for other pastors.

Members of Winston’s own congregation have died of COVID-19. Members of his fellow pastors’ congregations have died of it. Pastors who are members of his group have died. And he has lost members of his own extended family.

“The effects of trauma can take a toll on you,” Winston says.

The calls announcing death come to him in many tones. Some emotional, some stunned, some hysterical.

As a pastor, this is his calling. But in the pandemic, it’s relentless.

ExploreReturn to the COVID timeline: A year of loss

They’ve brought in grief counselors, though they, too, are inundated and overwhelmed, Winston says.

“You’ve got families who lost their entire lineage,” he says. “The matriarchs of families and the patriarchs of their family.” A close family friend of his has just lost the matriarch of her family to the virus.

It’s especially hard because, Winston says, his faith teaches him to embrace hope. That the end is in sight. Yet just when vaccines bring hope, variants show up, dimming the outlook.

As African Americans, he said, they survive by drawing on a deep well of strength earned through a history of turmoil.

Caption
Rev. Darryl Winston records a sermon for his parishioners from his residence in Marietta. He says that offering comforting during the pandemic is especially hard because his faith teaches him to embrace hope, and the pandemic's toll has been relentless. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Rev. Darryl Winston records a sermon for his parishioners from his residence in Marietta. He says that offering comforting during the pandemic is especially hard because his faith teaches him to embrace hope, and the pandemic's toll has been relentless. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Rev. Darryl Winston records a sermon for his parishioners from his residence in Marietta. He says that offering comforting during the pandemic is especially hard because his faith teaches him to embrace hope, and the pandemic's toll has been relentless. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“Sometimes we’ve had to step in and help a fellow pastor,” Winston said. “Sometimes our parishioners have had to step in to help their family members. And do whatever needs to be done to keep everyone from being overtaken, because it can overtake you.”

A member of a prayer group he leads got married last year. Sometime during the holiday season her husband got sick, even though they’d been careful. He was hospitalized through much of December. Winston prayed with her for her husband’s recovery.

The first week of January, she called him, crying. “Just saying, ‘My husband is gone, pastor, my husband is gone.’”

That was the holiday surge. But no time has been safe.

“It’s been a constant list of casualties since it started,” Winston said; when the surges die down, there’s “a steady flow of announcements that somebody’s succumbing to COVID.”

Winston lost his own cousin on his mother’s side in October. A cousin on his father’s side in November. Those were among several other deaths.

“I have no number,” Winston said. “I know that it has been incalculable.”

ExploreReturn to the COVID timeline: A year of loss

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