October 19, 2020
The 2020 pandemic has brought hardships and grief to many. It has caused unexpected shutdowns and delays, challenged healthcare infrastructure and supply lines. Our country, for the most part, has been woefully unprepared to navigate the problems COVID-19 has produced.
And yet this crisis has also sparked ingenuity and partnerships.
At Oak Lawn UMC in Dallas, TX, the pandemic stirred creative solutions that would enable the congregation to continue serving as a refuge even though the physical space of their building could no longer function in that way. “We have a long history of serving as a spiritual and literal refuge for people who need a place to find healing,” Rev. Rachel Baughman noted. “We have been around for 145 years and in that time, we have become a place where people who are suffering from any kind of discrimination can feel safe and find a listening ear. When the pandemic hit, we had to be creative and take a closer look at how we could continue serving in safe ways.”
One of the first things they did was modify their feeding ministry. It transformed from a dining hall experience to an outdoor picnic experience, where food-insecure neighbors could take a prepared meal from the back of the church and eat it picnic-style on the church’s green space. They also formed strategic partnerships with other organizations that wanted to provide meals but needed an industrial kitchen. Those shifts meant Oak Lawn UMC went from offering approximately 50 meals a week to 550!
While transitioning their feeding ministry was their greatest priority, Oak Lawn ensured other important ministries did not fall through the cracks as well. Their annual transgender clothing swap was always a safe place for trans people to try on clothes and get clothing items they needed without feeling uncomfortable. This year the church partnered with Prism Health to host an outdoor event, where trans people would still have the opportunity to find clothing, but their risk of contracting COVID-19 would be greatly reduced compared to an indoor event.
The next problem they are trying to tackle is how to modify their sheltering ministry for their homeless neighbors when winter weather hits. Normally, they would offer space inside the church to as many people as needed it, but the pandemic means they have to have restrictions to keep everyone safe. Rachel has been working with other shelter leaders to create an emergency plan for unsheltered neighbors on freezing nights. As the capacity of area shelters is limited during the pandemic, it is important, now more than ever, for churches to be able to provide additional emergency shelter beds.
The pandemic produced creative urgency to solve immediate community problems. Oak Lawn’s leaders had the vision they needed to navigate these problems, so they decided to ask for a grant from TMF to fill the financial gaps they had in order to support these ministries. They received the grant and used the funds to expand their feeding ministry exactly when it needed to multiply.
“I think it is really significant that TMF made these funds available so quickly,” Rachel shared. “It can be difficult for nonprofits to get lines of credit during an emergency, so it was important for TMF to get ahead of needs early on during the pandemic. We are extremely grateful to TMF. They have enabled us to expand our feeding ministry and we could not have done what we are doing at this scale without them.”