‘I’ve done too many funerals’: Pastor Michelle Thomas

By Jon Rudnicki

Nov. 3, 2020

VIRGINIA

Pastor Michelle Thomas at the site of the cemetery for the enslaved.

Pastor Michelle Thomas at the site of a Virginia cemetery for enslaved African Americans. Photo provided by Thomas. 

Since 2015, Pastor Michelle Thomas has worked to restore, protect and preserve a cemetery for enslaved African Americans, to make it a place to share their stories and their history.

“It has transcended a burial ground, it has become a hub for learning and to teach Virginian history.”

In summer 2020, Thomas’s son Fitz drowned when emergency services failed to show up to the scene of the accident in a timely manner. Thomas decided to bury her son in the cemetery she was watching over.

“You would never think in a million years that you’re preparing a burial place for your child. That wasn’t the goal. It was never to provide a final resting place for my son.”

Thomas is hoping for a fair election and wants to see a responsible government take charge to lead the country through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the state has seen about 1,000 new reported cases of COVID-19 per day in the last seven days. Residents like Thomas are concerned about the lack of action taken to protect citizens from the virus, and the lack of economic relief for those who are unable to work.

Thomas, 49, lives in Loudon County, Va., with her husband Delroy Thomas, and their children Anna, 12, and Adrian, 27. Both parents are essential workers and their daughter, Anna, 12, is in school, which puts them at risk for contracting COVID-19. Being a pastor, Thomas interacts with the public daily. She also has diabetes and high blood pressure which makes her more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“I’ve done too many funerals. I’ve seen families ravaged by this disease.” Thomas says she has officiated the funerals of 16 individuals who died from causes related to COVID-19. She officiates for her own church as well as for people across Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia who ask for her services.

It’s exhausting for her, and when Fitz died, it sometimes becomes unbearable. But Thomas says she has come too far to turn back now. “I have no choice but to go forward. And that is what my son would want me to do. Fitzy would want to see me move forward.”

Pastor Michelle Thomas leads a march urging Virginians to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Pastor Michelle Thomas leads a march urging Virginians to vote in the 2020 presidential election.  

Thomas voted early on Oct. 24 in Loudoun, for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

She is hoping they will lead the United States through the remainder of the pandemic.

“I am very much looking forward to some serious solutions to COVID-19 that are going to keep this nation safe and keep me alive,” she says.

“I’ve seen people die, dreams die, hopes die and businesses die. And a lot of it could have been prevented,” says Thomas, who is also the president of NAACP Loudoun branch. For the pastor, election day is a chance for a change in leadership.

​Tensions may be high, but Thomas uses her position to bring people together. She says, through her work, she asks her congregation to model their actions after Jesus, which is to love and not hate, and to lift others up rather than oppress them.

Thomas is confident the healing process for the United States will begin after Election Day. She says it starts with a conversation, or a community project that everyone can agree on. But, Thomas clarifies, it mostly starts with just being kind.

How Thomas and millions of other Virginians are able to navigate through a deadly pandemic depends heavily on the outcome of this presidential election, she says.

“I’m hoping that the soul, conscious, and character of America, somehow, some way, will be restored.”