Over the past week, Texas has dealt with a historic cold and power crisis, but fortunately, churches in the Lone Star State have been on the front lines, providing shelter, food, safety, and compassion to the millions of citizens grappling with the harsh conditions.
The cold front, fueled by an unforeseen polar vortex, has affected many aspects of daily life for Texans. Roads in Texas cannot handle ice or sleet, since road crews do not lay down salt to melt them down, which contributed to a disastrous 100-car pile-up in Fort Worth when the cold front first hit. The electric grid failed, which resulted in hundreds of cases of accidental carbon monoxide poisonings as people tried to stay warm, including a mother and her child, who died after running a car inside the garage. An 11-year-old child died of hypothermia. Four people were found dead in the aftermath of a house fire that may have started due to candles, which were likely used for light in a house with no power. Two men were also found dead on the side of a highway in Houston.
Fortunately, churches across the state and throughout the region have stood in the gap to assist the millions who are struggling during this disaster. St. Luke Episcopal Church in Denison opened their doors to provide hot meals and places to sleep, along with masks to help with COVID-19 concerns.
“The coffee pot will be on all night long,” Father Don Perschell said. “When they arrive, if they don’t have a mask, we’re going to give them a mask. They’re going to be given an opportunity to find a space here in the hall and they won’t have to worry about somebody crowding in.”
Christian Warner, the Austin-based director of the Anglican Church in North America’s Matthew 25 Initiative, said that what churches are doing around the state has transcended the “arm-length solidarity” from the past 11 months of quarantine.
“People are caring for their neighbors in a way that’s different than pandemic care, in a way that’s a bit bolder,” Warner said.
In San Antonio, several churches opened their doors to the homeless and others in need of shelter and food. Travis Park Church, as an example, took in nearly 60 guests. The Rev. Gavin Rogers stayed at the church for eight days to help his small staff care for those who had no other way to escape the cold.
“There’s just four of us, and we’re running a 24-hour shelter,” Rogers said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘I guess we’re not leaving’ and we just stuck through it. And some of us didn’t sleep for 24 hours, but we just made it work.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that churches are essential and should remain open, and it is times like this when we see just how important the body of Christ is.
While the cold snap in Texas highlights the impact a church can have on their community, it is far from the only time they are beneficial to society. Churches across the country provide space for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, organize food banks and free dinners, offer marriage counseling services, run homeless shelters and street ministries, and provide so many other beneficial programs to the community. Church is essential because without the Church, we would have no example of what God’s love looks like.
This is exactly why shutting down churches during the pandemic is not merely a constitutional war, it is a spiritual one. Satan will do anything he can to snuff out God’s people, and if that means he can influence the governors of this country to restrict how and when the Church can meet or how it can serve the community, he will do it. The devil wants the world to suffer, and he know attacking God’s people will make that suffering worse.
But Texas churches are displaying in a powerful way exactly what the character of God found in Isaiah 25:4 looks like: He is “a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm….”
This is exactly why Christians need to live out their faith boldly: The world is hurting, and God commands his people to help our neighbors and those in need, especially in times of crisis. No government mandate should keep us from doing exactly that.