Stories from people building community and fulfilling the mission of the church in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are living in unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic. The body of our church is alive and well. We hear heartfelt messages everyday of service and spiritual practices that are happening outside the walls of our church and in our own homes. We invite you to take some time to share a story of worship, faith, or fellowship that is happening in your life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are connecting in new ways. We are worshiping in new ways. We are serving in new ways. We are living the Church right now during these times. Please share a story of hope, love, and inspiration to your church family by emailing Mary Heckmann, Director of Communications at email@example.com.
Disciple Fast Track
By Janet Duke
I took Disciple Fast Track with Dr. Brad King because it had been a long time since I did a focused Bible study. The Bible always speaks to me more when I study it formally. I knew I would find that, but I had no idea how much Brad would expand my understanding.
Brad provided so many insights into time periods, cultural influences, and scholarship on authors and writings. It added a much deeper understanding to the spiritual work of Bible study and brought freshness to our discussions. I gained new appreciation for the writings and the context for each book. One touching aspect was a growing appreciation of how studies of ancient texts and fragments has added — is constantly adding — to our understanding of the history of the Bible and those who wrote and preserved it for us. In addition, I learned from the insights and comments of my classmates and we learned to know one another through discussion and prayer.
The class met weekly at church until COVID-19 hit, then we shifted to Zoom. While I missed the personal connection of being in the same room, Brad did not miss a beat and everyone continued to attend. We soon grew accustomed to the new format and discussion never lagged. I was so grateful the church provided an alternate facility and realized how much I would have missed if unable to complete Disciple Fast Track.
Using video conferencing was so successful, I’ve continued with book studies. In fact, I’ve found the convenience of being able to attend from home means I have to block less time, if only because I avoid a long drive to the church. I have studied more because of this access and convenience. I look forward to other courses being offered and the pleasure of meeting more church members.
Our Downtowners Community
By Sally Watkins
The Downtowners Class held our first virtual Happy Hour on Thursday evening the second week of shelter-in-place, in addition to our Sunday morning class on Zoom. Then it just kept going!
Back in the old days when we met in person at FUMC, we were able to come early or stay later and catch up with friends and news…and maybe a few jokes. That’s not so with our Sunday School hour now, since we gather at one time and after class we move right on to Zoom Church.
Thursday happy hour is a very relaxed hour, perhaps due to the time of day and the option of libations other than classroom coffee. Thursday night visits allow catching up on kids and grandkids, life events and more. Lately, Amy Wink has corralled the conversation to talk about FUMC history, since several class members have been here 40-50+ years. And we have Kathleen. Oh the stories! You can expect to see them…the ones deemed appropriate…show up in future Bolder Than the State of Texas editions.
For more than 50 years, this class has been Community for its members, and a Support Group in times of joy, sadness or need. We are grateful that technology and commitment enable continuing the conversations, sharing and relationships that sustain, strengthen, and grow what the class has built over the years.
ESL Ministry Adapts on Zoom
By Catherine Bingaman
Our English as a Second Language classes have been, like everyone, adapting to this new life under Coronavirus. We have been holding Zoom classes twice a week for our current and former students. Our students seem to really appreciate the classes to keep their English skills current, but they seem to appreciate them even more for providing a safe and comfortable setting in which to ask questions about what is happening now. For example, many of our students were unsure about the meaning of “shelter in place.” Some felt like it meant that they couldn’t leave their house at all, even to go outside for a walk. They are even more confused than we are about which things they are allowed to do and which businesses are allowed to open. We have worked to explain those rules to the best of our ability. Their insecurity and fear over what is happening is exacerbated by not understanding the language perfectly. You can imagine what it would feel like to be quarantined in a foreign country where you only partially understood the language. We’ve had about 35 to 40 participants in each of our Zoom meetings so far. The students have expressed their thanks to the teachers and to the church for providing this service for them. One former ESL student and current Zoom student, who is widowed, had returned to her country for a visit when Coronavirus hit. She is staying in her apartment all alone. She’s not sure when or if she’ll be able to return to the U.S. She sent us an email thanking us for making her isolation so much better. She looks forward to the twice a week visits with the teachers and students. She says it relieves her worries.
Our Voices Together
By Michael Wolfe
Our roles as musicians have shifted as a result of social distancing. When we share physical space with other musicians, we are able to feel the music as one. So much of the joy of music making comes from joining in communion with one another to create something larger than ourselves. Fortunately, technology has enabled us to continue to serve the congregation despite our isolation.
My background in recording and music production has allowed me to assist the choir in adapting to a virtual platform. Our choir has remained dedicated as we learn to streamline the process of creating meaningful music for worship. They have taken great care to provide their highest quality contribution with the technology available to them.
Each week, I prepare Scott’s accompaniment by adding sound cues for the singers indicating cutoffs and tempo changes. This serves the same role as a conductor. The singers then record themselves while listening to the accompaniment track through headphones to create an a cappella recording. Most singers use their smartphone. Then, I edit and mix the submissions to create a unified, balanced sound.
It’s a time intensive process, but it’s a labor of love. It may even be the next best thing to actually spending time together. Getting to hear how each voice contributes to the overall sound has given me a deeper appreciation for the level of artistry and musicianship we have at our church. I feel grateful for the opportunity to use my skillset to assist the choir in continuing its mission despite the limitations of this unprecedented time.
By Brad Heckler
I have gone from going to church choir every Wednesday night and Sunday morning to weekly church musician Zoom meetings on Sundays and recording myself singing in my kitchen on Mondays or Tuesdays. I also helped in the creation of the Easter church music video so we could all feel connected on Easter since we couldn’t actually be present together. I do it all because I would feel lost not being a part of the FUMC church choir every week. It gives me purpose and somewhat of a sense of “family” in a time where I am spending a lot of time alone.
My Extended Family
By Stacy Prentice
My students and their families are my family. When news of the pandemic started in March, I felt lost and stressed. I knew that if I was having these feelings, then my students and families were most likely feeling out of sorts as well. So I decided to do, what I do best, group time! Holding space for my sweet preschoolers virtually and reading books brought me much needed connection those first few weeks of uncertainty.
I FaceTimed my students almost daily and witnessed sweet tours of their houses and my students showing me all the things in their room. While I couldn’t change the outside world, I could bring them some normalcy, by connecting with them, even if it was in a new way.
Bedtime FaceTime read alouds became a part of my day. As someone sheltering in place alone, it was wonderful to feel connected.
I became a teacher because I love working with children and families and that work didn’t stop when the quarantine started, it just shifted.
Serving the Word
By Amy Wink
Serving and preparing communion is a deeply profound experience for me. The immediacy of connection, the moment of community, when I see people I love shining with Divine light and offer the word of God made into bread so we might eat together and be transformed together. But now, separated and in solitude, I asked myself through my daily poetry/prayer practice, “how do I serve the Word/now no longer bread?” and I thought of Paul, isolated under house arrest, considering how best to reach the churches he loved through his epistles, his letters. How else does one send word in ancient times, no electronics, no digital media, no phone? How does one reach? I am a scholar of the 19th century, and the diaries and letters of those who had no other way to contact each other except through writing. So I chose my nineteenth century skill—which is an ancient and hereditary one—and started writing letters to those I knew (which now numbers 80 letters), to those who I hoped would understand how they are remembered each Sunday in communion, and community. My youngest correspondent is 6, my oldest in her 80’s. I wrote to one young friend “I like to write letters because while you are writing, it is like you are sitting with your friend for the time you are writing and when your friend receives the letter, it is like they are sitting with you while they read it.” Together, being with each other, reading each other’s words like bread, ink like blood, and sharing time as if it were presence. How do I serve the Word other than sending word as a sign of bread, a sign of our beloved community, and God with us.
Transformation of Feed My People Breakfast
By Randy Teich
COVID-19 has dramatically changed our Feed My People Breakfast. We have gone from a sit-down meal, complete with showers, haircuts, prayer time, AA, and book giveaways, to a sack breakfast handed to each client from behind a door that protects both the giver and the receiver. What was once an all-you-can-drink coffee, eggs, sausage, biscuits, juice, and milk breakfast has now changed to a simple meal of one juice box and a bottle of water, two tortillas and a mix of scrambled eggs, bacon bits, hash browns, and cheese served in a folded foil square.
Pre-coronavirus breakfast welcomed any volunteer who showed up. We usually had at least 35 volunteers, mostly UT students from service groups. Now we limit our morning volunteers to 14 people who must sign up in advance. Masks are required and everyone’s temperature is taken when they arrive. An additional 7 volunteers do prep work the night before each breakfast to prepare the sacks and crack the 450 eggs for the following morning. The morning team prepares the scrambled egg/bacon/potato/cheese mix, fills the bags, and delivers them downstairs where they are handed to clients through the slightly opened doors. Most volunteers have little or no opportunity to interact with most of the clients.
The pandemic has seriously impacted our clients’ lives as well. Many spent hours at the libraries which are now closed. They have a much harder time accessing computers to email others, to check for job opportunities or just fill time in an otherwise boring day. Several of the shelters have experienced virus outbreaks with major consequences. People have very little to do and many are concerned that they may become infected if they remain downtown. Our attendance has dropped from an average of around 225 clients to fewer than 50. We continue to try to reach those experiencing homelessness and Scott Wilder now picks up our leftover meals and delivers them to other areas of town in the Mobile Loaves truck.
Feed My People continues to serve and clients continue to appreciate our work. It is truly a different experience for all of us involved. We are all, none the less blessed to participate.
Connection at a Distance
By Robbie Ausley
In September of 2017, serving as a host for an event in our Family Life Center, I was delighted to encounter Stephanie Benold. She had been a FUMC member twenty-five years earlier when her two daughters were little. They then joined a church in Georgetown, nearer their home; however, after a divorce, Stephanie was back in Austin and facing ovarian cancer. That encounter brought her back to FUMC and to the Downtowners Sunday School class.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, Stephanie was in and out of the hospital and treatment; however, in mid-March, she learned nothing more could be done. When I shared that she had only a few weeks to live but could not receive visitors because of the coronavirus, members of Downtowners wanted desperately to reach out to her.
On Palm Sunday afternoon, a few of us gathered outside her home, six feet apart. Wishing we could hug her, we sang “Blessed Assurance” and waved palms while Stephanie’s daughter sat her by the window to watch and wave. She died just a few days later, on Good Friday at the age of sixty-three.
As we had grown to know and love Stephanie over the years, and as we had witnessed her faith and courage during the last part of her journey, we wanted to be by her side…to be present. However, standing outside her window, we realized that we could be present and touch her as we also touched one another…even at a distance. On that Palm Sunday afternoon, we understood that “connection” need not be physical to be authentic. We thank God for the spiritual connection…the “communion of the saints” that keeps us together.
Holy Week at Home
By Tamra Golden
Easter 2020, an opportunity to experience all of Holy week, not just Easter Celebration. The boys had not attended a Maundy Thursday service, so were unaware of the ritual of the washing of the feet. As we gathered in the living room I explained what I was going to do and that it would be done in silence. But as I sat at each of their feet and washed them with a wet cloth, and subsequently dried them, in total silence, they didn’t quite know what to do. We then listened to FUMC’s podcast and subsequently removed all religious emblems from our house, placing them in a box and covering them with a dark cloth. I had the boys go to their rooms and remove everything that reminds them of Jesus, since we are observing a world without Christ. Afterwards, the boys stood around not quite knowing what to do. In the awkwardness, I could see that our home service had resonated. One later commented, “I will never look at an Easter basket/candy the same way.” Thankful for the opportunity amidst these dark times.