according to city data available Monday.
Memphis homicides: A look inside the record 2020 numbers
"I've literally preached one spouse funeral, and then a couple of months later had to preach the other spouse funeral," Orr said. "Families have literally had multiple deaths in their families...families have had to grapple with all of that in addition to the pandemic, political unrest. It's been an interesting year, 2020."
In some instances, particularly with COVID-19, the death may be sudden. And it's struck his own family and the church family, too.
"There are times when it has been a sudden, unexpected (death)...So I might talk about the storm that Jesus was in that was suddenly unexpected, just to let people know that, 'You know what, here's the truth of the matter. It's going to happen, you know? And although it does happen, how can we find comfort in it? For that is the presence of the Lord even in the midst of a storm,'" Orr said.
Wilford Barnes, a member of the church for more than 12 years, recently buried both his mother, and the niece who cared for her. His mother, 85, died of COVID-19 complications on Nov. 13. She and Barnes' sister, who live together, both had the disease. His niece, 42, died the week prior, though it was unclear if she had coronavirus at the time of her death.
Sometimes, Barnes said, he'd go over to visit and help out. His mom was bedridden after a stroke a paralyzed her for the last year, and also had health workers coming to help care for her, too.
"Sometimes I would actually take my mask off and kiss her on the cheek. So she will feel me. So she would feel my touch. And being that close," Barnes said, pausing. "I just thank God that I didn't catch the COVID."
The family planned to hold an indoor viewing and then socially-distanced graveside service outdoors — being indoors for a service, in his view, is still too risky. They planned to set out 30 chairs, six feet apart from one another, at the gravesite, and everyone has to wear masks, Barnes said. He planned to enforce all of the social distancing rules.
There won't be a big gathering at the holidays, for a year when Barnes' has two other family members to mourn, too: One died of stage IV cancer, and another was shot and killed earlier this year while driving on Mill Branch Road, Barnes said.
"This is going to be very strange," Barnes said of Thanksgiving. Where he'd usually have 20 people at his house, this year's celebration will be himself, his wife and mother-in-law. There's no way to know where the other family members have been going or how they might be exposed, he said.
"There is social media that you can (use): FaceTime, Facebook, ooVoo, (Google) Duo. They've got all the different types of media as a way you can see your family on on those special days," Barnes said. "So that's what we're doing, phone calls. We're taking it that seriously."
At Brown Missionary Baptist, Orr recently opened up church services in October, after shuttering in March. Serving a predominantly Black population, which has been disparately impacted by the pandemic, Orr felt a particular obligation to safety. People who attend now have to sign up ahead of time, and capacity is limited to about 10% of the 2,000 or so people that the building can hold. He has a church task force that reevaluates conditions each month.
He kept funeral services open, but restricted at first to 10 people. Now, those are also held to 10% of the 1,200-person capacity in the sanctuary: Every other pew is taped off, and the number of people per pew is limited for social distance. Because the church has a spacious building, Orr held funeral services for people who weren't members but whose churches weren't open.
"It has been an increase (in deaths). It has taken a toll," Orr said. "But we're grateful that as a church family, we've been able to embrace people at this time, especially in the midst of this pandemic, and to really help to give closure to families."
Laura Testino covers education and children's issues for the Commercial Appeal. Reach her at email@example.com or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino