Serving Through Harvey and Helping During COVID-19
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
As coronavirus spreads throughout Houston, many churches have closed their doors and opted to livestream services instead. Before making its transition online, the congregation of Lake Houston UMC headed to the church’s parking lot on the Sunday -- exploring fears caused by the pandemic, as well as the hope that accompanies faith. Pastor Frank Coats’ sermon, “Three Scriptures and a Quote for a Time of Crisis,” focused on the power of love and reason -- gifts from God in the midst of a struggle.
Pastor Coats started the sermon by quoting scripture from 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Coats explained that fear can be seen as a gift, a way of understanding when to react to danger or a threat. After reading the book, “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker, he learned that paying attention to fear can be lifesaving.
“But that’s different from a spirit of fear,” Coats said. “A spirit of fear is fear that permeates, fear that fills everything.”
Currently, society has adopted a culture of fear, he continued. Feeling scared can be reinforced by media of all types – and that emotion can be difficult to escape. The pervasiveness of fear makes it difficult to ascertain when there is a true threat.
“With the coronavirus, we are tempted to not recognize a real threat when we have one,” Coats said. “This virus is a real threat.”
This is a time to pay attention to fear, but not to live in the spirit of being afraid, the pastor explained. He said that all congregants must consider not only their own health but also the well-being of others, especially those most vulnerable to the virus.
“I don’t know what we will do next week, but we are not responding out of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” he said.
Staying calm in a storm is not a first for Lake Houston UMC. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that the congregation first time the church has met in its parking lot, facing an uncertain future.
It wasn’t that long ago that the congregation gathered outside after Hurricane Harvey decimated their sanctuary, flooding the area and leaving the building beyond repair.
At the time, however, a Vision Team was already at work in the church. The Texas Department of Transportation was planning to widen the road in front of the building, and part of the property was taken through eminent domain.
While contemplating how to adjust to the new road, Lake Houston UMC was also evaluating its current facilities.
“We were experiencing tremendous growth in our area, and we had already outgrown our sanctuary,” Coats explained.
The church also needed a better layout in general, he said. For example, the offices could move to the front and children’s classes could consolidate to make the space more efficient.
Until Hurricane Harvey, there were plans and dreams of a better building. After the storm, however, the church found an opportunity to make these dreams into reality.
“We had to rebuild completely,” Coats said. “God had prepared us. We had ideas for what we wanted to do.”
Rev. Wes Duncan from First Humble UMC, also an architect, designed a new sanctuary for Lake Houston UMC, and crews have been at work on construction.
The metal shell of the building that was only recently raised provided a shelter for the outdoor sermon about coronavirus. Coats said that the cross was lifted up just in time to stand over congregants that Sunday.
About 40 people attended the service, bringing their own chairs from home to pray together.
“Can God bring a blessing out of this?” Coats asked those assembled. “Can we turn to God in this time of crisis and be drawn into a closer walk with God and with others?”
He has seen God walk with the church in the aftermath of the storm and challenged his congregation to use their downtime to find meaning and new purpose.
“Perhaps we can use this time to be still before God, to pray, to read Scriptures, to remember that ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’ as we are promised in Psalm 46,” he said. “Perhaps we can use this time to rest, to have a form of Sabbath.”
Coats suggested, in this Lenten season, to consider a time of fasting and self-denial as a means to grow closer to God and to neighbors. For example, he said, washing hands can become an act of prayer.
“We are in uncharted waters here,” Coats said. “We don’t know what will happen. Nearly three years ago, we met in this parking lot. Then we were beginning the restoration from the waters that flooded everything we had. We didn’t know what would happen, but we did know the Lord was with us.”
Standing outside the new sanctuary, looking at the newly raised cross above it, he again feels the presence of God. He suggests practicing the Serenity Prayer, to learn to recognize when fear should be heeded and when panic needs to be calmed, to find creative ways to show love, band together and help those in need.
“What I can do is pray and make phone calls to people who are lonely,” he said. “We can do what we can – and we’re just going to have to find out what that will be.”
For more information about Lake Houston UMC, visit lakehoustonumc.com.