Church serves the community despite severe damage

By Lindsay Peyton

Helping neighbors while watching the action outside of Ebenezer UMC in Houston, you would never suspect that inside church doors, the building is severely damaged. The past couple of weekends, since a winter storm wreaked havoc in Texas, Ebenezer UMC has hosted drive-up food drives and COVID-19 drive-through vaccinations. Senior Pastor Enid Henderson is keeping her eyes focused on mission, and the church continues to help neighbors in need – even though the congregation itself is in need of help.

Henderson learned about the water damage at her congregation on Thursday, Feb. 18. Pipes burst. “There was just water everywhere,” she recalled.

Around the same time, however, she received a call from Councilwoman Karla Cisneros’ office, asking if the church would become a water distribution site – immediately.

Henderson had to make a quick call – to either focus on the damaged sanctuary or to distribute water to neighbors who had been without it for days. It didn’t take her long to come up with an answer. She stood outside and handed out bottles.

“I had to focus on what God’s calling us to do and not be distracted,” Henderson said. “You’ve got turmoil inside the church, but you have people who are suffering outside who need help. It’s a reminder from God that church is not the building.”

Even though Ebenezer UMC had to remove carpet and start mucking and gutting, the congregation’s outreach progressed undeterred. On Saturday, Feb. 20, the church placed hot meals in trunks for neighbors who drove up in their vehicles. Water distribution continued throughout the weekend.

The following weekend on Feb. 27, Ebenezer hosted a drive-through food giveaway, and then on March 7, the church began offering the first round of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ebenezer is working with the TAC’s Church and Community Health Initiative to provide the shots. “We’ve got to get vaccines out in the community,” Henderson said.

The same individuals who registered for their first dose will return later for their second shots.

And, Ebenezer members are currently assembling fun packs for children at the local elementary, complete with books to read and activities for spring break.

All the while, Henderson worries about how Ebenezer will find the resources to recover from the destruction inside. A major renovation is not in the church’s budget. She hopes for donations and that volunteers to sign up to help.

Instead of getting lost in worry, Henderson focuses on Psalm 46:10, “ Be still, and know that I am God.”

“That’s what gives me hope, knowing God is with us,” Henderson said.

Ebenezer UMC has not returned to in-person worship since COVID-19 first closed its doors. “The building isn’t the church,” she said. “We have to rethink and reimagine and eliminate excuses on why we can’t serve.”

Instead, Henderson is thankful for the limited resources that remain. “What is available to us and what has God equipped us to do to allow us to continue mission work? How do we serve the community with what we have here?” she asks.

COVID-19 has made indoor worship impossible for the past year. Now, with the water damage, the congregation will have to wait even longer to return. There is grief to process for the destruction of the sanctuary – and much work to be done.

At the same time, Henderson said, the congregation can still serve and help others in their own neighborhood. She says, “We have to ask, What is God doing right now? We have to remind ourselves who our source of joy is. It’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong, but I try to find where God is.”

Henderson credits her parents with teaching her to serve her neighbors. She remembers they would drive around and help area youth. “My parents taught us to not be selfish and always think of what we could do to help,” she recalled. “They engrained giving, caring, blessing and love. It just how we were wired.”

Now, she often thinks of her father’s words is something happened: “Now that you’re aware of the problem, what are you going to do about it next?”

“You become solution oriented,” Henderson said. “You learn to move forward and not get stuck.”

She said that her parents helped prepared her for ministry. Now, their words and deeds continue to push her to serve in spite of the water damage. She is also inspired by the many church members and their commitment to help others — and to work to repair their sanctuary.

Lately, Henderson is concerned about the depression, anxiety and trauma in her neighborhood, where families are struggling after a devastating storm and a year of coronavirus hardships. She hopes to build up resources to bring hope.

“This time has revealed hurt in so many ways,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Henderson said that processing grief and asking for help are both normal and healthy. “You don’t have to be the strong one,” she said. “Being able to know you’re hurting is important. It begins the process of healing.”

In fact, Henderson believes that true strength means turning to each other and to God for help. “It’s through change and transition that we experience transformation and growth,” she said. “In these trying times, you realize how vulnerable and frail you are and how much you’re not in control. Trusting and knowing that God is with you working – there’s peace in that.”

In the midst of COVID-19, in the aftermath of the storm, Henderson suggests leaning on faith and each other. “It’s so important that we don’t drift into isolation,” she said. “Empower one another, keep focused and stay busy doing the good work.”