August 13, 2020 | by Sam Hodges
Laurel Heights United Methodist Church went about three months with online worship only, then gathered again in its lovely old Gothic sanctuary, with everyone wearing masks and keeping their distance.
But it was one and done for the San Antonio church. COVID-19 cases locally began to spike just ahead of the June 14 reopening.
“We had sticker shock. We saw all these COVID numbers,” said the Rev. Paul Escamilla, Laurel Heights’ pastor. “We knew even when we gathered we wouldn’t be back the following Sunday, and we haven’t been back since.”
Thousands of United Methodist churches — including entire conferences — have dealt with the challenge of being unable to meet in person since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the U.S. and other parts of the world before Easter.
But in recent weeks some churches that had implemented safety protocols and carefully reopened have had to close their doors again due to rising case numbers of the coronavirus locally.
Laurel Heights had just one Sunday worshipping in person. First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had two.
“When we opened back up, it really lifted my spirits,” said the Rev. Brady Whitton, pastor. “So to shut things back down again hurt. At the same time, shutting down again helped me settle into the fact that this is going to be our reality for a while.”