|People seeking shelter from snow storm are offered Communion in the gym at First United Methodist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Source: United Methodist News|
As residents of Texas scrambled to stay warm amidst an energy crisis caused by a recent snow storm, United Methodist churches have responded by making themselves available as shelters.
As of Feb. 18, more than a half million Texas homes still had no power, and many had either low water pressure or no water at all due to struggling local water systems. Broken pipes and flooding were making some residences uninhabitable.
Rev. Clayton Oliphint, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas said, “We’ve been saying for the last year, during the pandemic, that the church is not the building, yet the building is what people need in terms of having shelter.”
Serving as warming shelters, churches are offering meals, places charge electronic devices, and shelter overnight across Texas as well as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri — other states impacted by the storm.
The Family Life Center at First United Methodist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been hopping this week.
Rev. Bill Sardin, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Hot Springs, Arkansas said, “It was supposed to be an overnight shelter, but conditions have gotten so bad we’re open 24/7.”
Focused on helping the homeless, First UMC is averaging sheltering and/or feeding approximately 50 residents a day.
While offering assistance, congregations are also forced to grapple with how to maintain COVID-19 safety procedures while sheltering weary residents from the cold.
In Dallas, a coalition was formed between churches, non-profits, and the city to turn the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center into a shelter.
Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas has been a leader in finding shelter for homeless people when temperatures fall below freezing. The church would typically open its own doors, drawing volunteers from the congregation and other faith groups.
Rev. Rachel Baughman, one of the pastors in the coalition commented, “At this point, we’re up to about 930 people in the convention center, as far as the unsheltered population, which is separate from the part of the center that’s open to the general public,” Baughman said. “We’ve been organizing three meals a day, and we have cots for everyone.”
Baughman said rapid tests for COVID-19 are part of the intake process.
“The pandemic adds to everything,” she said.
As the coalition continues to raise money to support residents, the return of power has helped ease some anxieties only to have them reignited by exorbitant energy bills that many residents are unable to pay.
As supplies continue to flow to affected communities, the members of the North Texas Conference remain primarily focused on providing immediate humanitarian assistance. Additionally, many pastors and lay leaders are optimistic that municipal and state officials will work with utility companies to address the billing crisis allowing for a long awaited return to normalcy.
Source: United Methodist News