Church parking lots fill for COVID-19 testing

A woman in protective gear holds out a swab to a woman who has come for COVID-19 testing at Cochran Chapel United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Cars lined up early for the June 29 opportunity. (Photo by Matt Jacob, North Texas Conference)

Sitting in the 28217 ZIP code of Charlotte, North Carolina, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church is in the middle of a COVID-19 hot spot.

This African American community, in North Carolina’s largest county, considered its precarious situation a “clarion call,” said Rev. Stephanie Moore Hand, an ordained deacon on the Metro District staff in the Western North Carolina Conference.

On June 26, St. Mark’s leaders invited Atrium Health Care COVID-19 Mobile Testing Facility to their campus. From 6 am to 3 pm, cars lined the streets around the church for free screening.

Hand said more than 250 cars joined the caravan.

“African Americans comprise approximately 36% of the population in Charlotte, Latinos 14%. However, the (number of) COVID-19 positive cases has been higher for these two populations,” said Fernando Little, St. Mark’s music director and an Atrium Health staff member. “In addition to the disparity in positive cases, there was a glaring gap in the percentage of African Americans and Latinos being tested.”

United Methodist churches have offered themselves as testing sites since near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as testing has expanded in the U.S., the number of participating churches has picked up, with some expressly seeking to help curb the virus’ spread among minorities and other vulnerable groups.

In Beaumont, Texas, along the upper Gulf Coast, two United Methodist churches worked together to create a pop-up testing clinic.

Rev. Tommy Williams, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, was pondering how to serve Beaumont in a time of COVID-19 restrictions. He also was worrying about how hard the virus was hitting racial-ethnic groups.

He approached Rev. Rodney Graves, pastor of McCabe Roberts Avenue United Methodist Church, which is in a Beaumont neighborhood that is majority Black, with a significant Hispanic population.

Their brainstorming led to the testing clinic, scheduled to go through July 2 at McCabe Roberts Avenue and done in partnership with urgent care group American Family Care.

“God put it on Tommy Williams’ heart that testing needed to take place and a good place to do it would be McCabe Roberts Avenue Church, because we’re in an area of need and we are a church that has a reputation of reaching out into the community,” Graves said.

Graves characterized the response as “tremendous,” with 40 to 50 people a day arriving for appointments to get tested—twice what he expected.

In Dallas, St. Luke Community United Methodist and Hamilton Park United Methodist are large, predominately Black churches serving as testing sites. Cochran Chapel United Methodist, in a mostly Hispanic area of Dallas, is another North Texas Conference church to do so.

“Obviously there are communities in our greater Dallas area that have less access to medical care in general, and less access to testing,” said Rev. Andy Lewis, North Texas Conference mission outreach director. “There’s also an intersection between those communities that have less access to medical care and communities where many people perform jobs that are essential services that put them in harm’s way to a greater degree.”

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