Churches minister to varied community needs in pandemic, rising to challenge

The COVID service of remembrance at Houston’s Champion Forest Baptist Church allowed community members to light candles and mourn those lost during the pandemic. Facebook photo

HOUSTON and EL PASOPandemic ministry can assume varied, often unconventional forms. After all, what is conventional in a worldwide crisis when the old normal is eclipsed? Southern Baptists of Texas Convention congregations have risen to the challenge by ministering to their communities in unique ways across Texas.

Churches have opened their facilities as food distribution centers, often in partnership with local food banks. Grounds have been made available for vaccination clinics. Some congregations have contributed funds to erase the medical debt of survivors. And almost every church has upped its online presence.

Many have developed creative ways to move ministries outside, where viral spread is more difficult.

Throughout, the name of Jesus has been proclaimed in diverse and creative ways.  

Service of Remembrance

In a somber mode, Champion Forest Baptist Church of Houston hosted a COVID service of remembrance for those in the community who had lost loved ones to the disease. The livestreamed and in-person April 18 service lasted just over an hour and featured worship, prayer, Scripture reading, shared stories and a message from Pastor Jarrett Stephens. Those grieving were invited to light candles in memory and honor of those lost.

“Jesus has such a tender heart for people. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Many in our community are grieving and could not hold services because of COVID protocols,” Stephens told the TEXAN prior to the service, which was open to the public and announced via social media and a press release. 

“Six weeks ago, I lost my dad. My hero,” Mike Haney told those in the sanctuary and online watching the service. Haney’s father, a 42-year Houston police veteran, developed COVID symptoms just after receiving the second dose of a vaccine.

“It didn’t seem fair that my dad, who had helped so many others, would have to die alone,” Haney said, describing his family’s final visits with his father via Zoom and then in-person. COVID had hit much of the family by then. Haney’s siblings, who had contracted the virus, were allowed on the COVID ward of the hospital to visit their dad while Haney donned a hazardous material suit to do so.

Still, good had come from the sorrow, Haney told the congregation, describing restored relationships and spiritual growth that had occurred in his family.

“God can take the mess of something and turn it into a masterpiece if you will allow him,” Haney said. 

Some 200 candles illuminated the sanctuary, each representing a soul lost physically to the coronavirus. The service was covered by local media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle, which posted a story on it. 

Gospel Fest

Realizing that the community needed an outlet not just to mourn, but to relax, Immanuel Baptist in El Paso sponsored Gospel Fest this spring. About 550 attended the March 13 outdoor event which was held on the church’s parking lot and featured a day-long car show and competition combined with music, testimonies, skits and Christian rappers.

Proud owners showed off their cars’ battery-powered hydraulic lifts as onlookers witnessed a “car jump” in mid-afternoon.

As events wound down by 4 p.m., trophies were awarded by judges in various categories such as best paint job, best-looking car, most original car—in addition to the “car hop” prize.

Such competition is a “cultural thing,” Immanuel Pastor J.C. Rico told the TEXAN, adding with a chuckle, “Sometimes they pay more attention to their cars than to their girlfriends.” 

Around 60 car owners paid a small fee to enter the show while attendees came for free to walk among the fancy cars and visit with the competitors.

Besides enjoying the car show, rappers and other entertainment, attendees also partook of free hot dogs, chips and water.

The event’s purpose was to “reach unchurched people and present the gospel of Jesus through messages, testimony and music they connected with,” Rico said.

Testimonies from ex-gang members, car club officers and others resonated with the crowd. Eight people trusted Christ for salvation, Rico noted.

The spring event will be repeated in October, Rico added, urging churches to think “outside the box” in these challenging times. In the case of Gospel Fest, Rico said the church had planned the event earlier, only to cancel because of COVID. By spring 2021, “they just wanted to get out,” and Gospel Fest was one of the few events available then, he said. 

Managing Editor
Jane Rodgers
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