Churches open doors to largest school district in Texas to help students continue education

HOUSTON — On Sept. 8, eight Houston churches part of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church hosted hundreds of Houston Independent School District (HISD) students citywide for the first day of virtual school as part of the “Sanctuary of Learning.” After the school district, the largest in Texas, opted for online-only teaching due to the pandemic, many working parents were left with few options, until local congregations opened their doors, providing ample space for social distancing, WiFi and volunteers so that students have a safe place to learn.

The “Sanctuary of Learning” was inspired by the partnerships that many of the churches have with the schools. The program provides a safe and stimulating environment for children while their parents were away at work. In addition to showing virtual lessons, participating churches offer enrichment activities in the afternoon. Some sites provide extended-care for parents who have to work late.

For local participating churches that have been mostly empty since lockdowns first began in March, offering their space and resources to students posed a perfect solution for serving the community during these unprecedented circumstances.

“COVID-19 forced us to find new ways to help our community and ease parents' minds that their child is learning,” said Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Texas Annual Conference. “A lot of parents were struggling to figure out how their children were going to continue their education when they have to go and work, I’m grateful we could be part of the solution.”

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Gethsemane and Westbury United Methodist Church are two of eight churches to become a “Sanctuary of Learning.” The 155-year old Trinity United Methodist Church is also participating, a church that has long been a hub for the community and a champion for education.

“Nobody knows the exact solution right now, but that’s the nuance of the Church,” said Rev. Ed Jones of Trinity UMC. “We walk in faith.”

Additionally, the HISD agreed to deliver breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks to each participating church. Furthermore, the district is cleaning the buildings daily, offered special equipment, staff to supervise children and a security officer, if necessary. The Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation also agreed to provide every child with a set of books for their home library.

“When you’re generous with heart, time and service, people are drawn to that,” said Rev. Jill Daniel, director of the “We Love All God’s Children” initiative. “This is such a unique opportunity for us to be the Church. This is what we’re called to do: love our neighbor.”

About the Texas Annual Conference
The Texas Annual Conference is one of the eleven annual regional conferences in the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Comprised of 700 congregations across nine Texas districts, they are active in multiple major cities across East Texas. To learn more, visit www.txcumc.org/aboutus.

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