Grief and Grace

St. Paul's UMC Huntsville TX

February 3, 2021

When the coronavirus arrived on the coast of Washington a year ago, we found it difficult to believe the scientific charts and graphs experts were sharing on our screens. The projections seemed impossible then. They still feel impossible in some ways. The loss of life caused by COVID-19 has now surpassed the death toll of U.S. soldiers during WWII. A loss of such tremendous scale is simultaneously too large to fully comprehend as a society and somehow so personal it is hard to find a family that has not been impacted.

For churches like St. Paul’s UMC in Huntsville, Texas, the losses have been particularly difficult. “The pandemic has been an extremely personal experience for us,” Pastor Kefentse Risher said with a pause. “In fact, I would say 2020 felt unpredictable. We lost multiple people and watched many in our congregation contract COVID, not knowing what would happen to them. This has been a trying season for the church and for me personally.”

St. Paul’s UMC-Huntsville became acutely aware of how deadly the pandemic could be in the very early months of 2020. They lost Tony Pierce and Rev. Lawrence Sowells, both integral members of the congregation. Tony had been the Finance Chair and his skills in that field were almost legend, leaving an enormous hole to fill during what was poised to be an economic crisis. In addition to those deaths, Kefentse lost his father suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of May 2020 to a brain aneurism and his best friend three weeks later to COVID.

St Paul UMC Huntsville TX

“I must commend my team and my staff. I leaned heavily on them after these losses. Their work and their diligence behind the scenes have been incredible. They helped the congregation mourn and keep the faith. They buoyed morale for the church, all while serving as critical connection points to our community,” Kefentse shared.

Even as church leaders were grappling with their own grief, they pulled together to create engaging virtual worship services, prayer services, and Bible studies. They were consistent with their ministries to serve the elderly and the youth, offering food and mentorship. Beyond their own community, they offered multicultural Bible study opportunities for churches as far away as Kansas. Resiliently they leaned into their greatest gifts and uncovered their tech-savvy side.

Church leaders from all areas pulled together to continue serving during the pandemic and the Finance Committee ensured they had all the funds needed for ministry, even though their beloved Chair was no longer with them. When TMF offered its Loan Assistance Program, for churches and nonprofits with existing loans to delay payments or make interest-only payments for several months during the crisis, the Finance Committee decided to take advantage of this program. It was exactly what they needed at that time to feel a bit of relief and to perpetuate the work of the church without worry.

St Paul's UMC Huntsville TX

“The Loan Assistance Program that was made available early during the pandemic really showed that TMF had its fingers on the pulse of the moment,” Kefentse said. “TMF was proactive and had great foresight. This program alleviated stress for many churches that were struggling during the pandemic. Even though our giving ended up being consistent, being able to take advantage of that program during a crisis that had the potential to be financially devastating was really helpful. TMF showed grace to us and other churches through this program. It is just one more example of God sending you exactly what you need, when you need it.”

Through the healthy processing of grief and continual focus on their mission, St. Paul's UMC-Huntsville has remained a pillar in their community, offering hope during a bleak year. The grace they experienced in moments of profound sorrow was a reflection of God's grace to us all and an encouragement to extend that same grace to their neighbors who needed it most.

If your church or nonprofit has an existing loan with TMF, you can also take advantage of our Loan Assistance Program. Interest-only payments have been extended through 2021. Simply reach out to your loan officer at loans@tmf-fdn.org | 800-933-5502 to learn more.

If your church or nonprofit would be interested in a microloan during this prolonged crisis, you can learn more about the TMF Microloan Program to determine if it is the right fit for your organization.