On March 11, 2020, more than 1,000 people in 40 states had been infected with COVID-19.
At least 31 had already died.
In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, bluntly warned:
“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”
The next day, March 12, Dallas County declared a health emergency.
A few short hours before, our Pure Joy! Youth Choir returned from a Spring Break tour of St. Louis.
Garland and other area school districts declared a second week of Spring Break as they scrambled to assess the situation and figure out what to do next.
Bishop Mike McKee sent a letter instructing all United Methodist churches in the North Texas Conference to cease in-person worship, presumably for no more than a few weeks.
On March 13, the staff of First United Methodist Garland met via Zoom to brainstorm what to do and how to worship.
Just over a year later, there have been more than 30 million cases and 550,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
Worldwide, there have been nearly 123 million cases and more than 2.7 million deaths.
As widespread vaccination escalates, there is hope on the horizon.
But we are a long way from ‘back to normal.’
Some churches have reopened to limited in-person worship.
For reasons of safety and based on the guidelines of Dallas County Health and Human Services, First United Methodist Garland has not.
Our building remains closed.
But God’s church is alive and well, because we are the church.
And God continues to work through us in spite of the pandemic.
God has a plan for us.
With God’s guidance and grace, we have learned to worship online.
This has enabled us to remain connected, albeit virtually, as a community of believers.
And it has positioned us for the future of God’s church.
Online worship won’t go away when we return to our sanctuary.
It will continue to be offered for those who feel safer and more comfortable remaining at home.
And for those now geographically distant but still desiring a spiritual connection with their home church.
And perhaps most importantly, for that seeker who may find through us an avenue to a new or renewed relationship with God.
We’ve kept other ministries alive online as well. Sunday School. Chancel, Pure Joy! Youth and Children’s Choirs. First Youth fellowship. Even Vacation Bible School and Night in Bethlehem.
We’ve held online Bible studies and book studies.
Senior Pastor Rev. Valarie Englert has provided a weekly opportunity to center, meditate and Breathe.
And we’ve tried to do our part in combating racism and promoting inclusion through a series of online Conversations About Race.
Our staff and laity have gone out of their way to keep in close touch with our members in spite of social distancing, providing food, pastoral care and other support as needed.
In spite of the pandemic, God has also led us to remain in mission as well.
We may not be hammering nails, repairing homes or installing grab bars.
But we are collecting and contributing food to Good Samaritans of Garland, and helping the Garland Retired School Personnel do the same.
We’ve continued our quarterly commitment to providing Breakfast @ Austin Street.
We provided a socially-distanced distribution point for The Reindeer Project, continuing to help Garland area families in need with gifts and food to ensure a merry Christmas for their children.
And when an unprecedented, freezing winter storm sent hundreds of our less fortunate neighbors scurrying for shelter, we did our part through donations of time, money and food to the Garland Overnight Warming Station (GLOWS).
COVID-19 may have slowed us.
COVID-19 may have changed the way we do things.
But COVID-19 has not stopped us.
It has not stopped God’s church.
It has not stopped God’s plan for us.
We are alive and well!
Thanks and praise be to God! Amen!