WEST—A microscopic virus accomplished what an earth-shattering explosion seven years ago could not—force First Baptist Church in West to cancel its Sunday morning worship service.
The Central Texas congregation canceled its Nov. 29 worship service due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the community, particularly after Pastor John Crowder and all others on the church staff except Youth Pastor Robert Hillier tested positive.
“There are more cases in West right now than we’ve ever had,” Crowder wrote in a Nov. 27 email to the church.
“Lisa (Crowder’s wife) and I both have it now as well. I tested positive this morning (Friday), and she will get a test tomorrow, but she has the symptoms. That means neither of us can make it to church this Sunday.”
Hillier, the lone staff member without the virus, was in Amarillo, observing Thanksgiving with family, Crowder continued.
“We do have a person who could lead singing on Sunday, but we have no one to play the piano, and we have no praise team, so there would be no accompaniment. Also, we don’t have the computer set up with song lyrics so we can’t project the words, and we’re not supposed to use hymnals” as a precaution against the spread of the virus, he wrote.
“Some of our key volunteers are also quarantining, including our live-streaming guy and some of our Bible study teachers. Since we have less than 48 hours, we just don’t have the time, and I don’t have the energy to figure out and solve all the problems before church time,” Crowder acknowledged.
“Therefore, I’m sad to announce that all of our services will be canceled this Sunday. That includes online worship. When we had online worship, it took me many hours each week to put it all together, edit it, render it and upload it, but I simply can’t get that done right now.”
Crowder told his congregation the church’s leader would “spend the next week regrouping” and would be ready to provide a worship service of some kind on Dec. 6.
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Explosion in 2013 rocked the community
It’s not the first time First Baptist Church in West faced serious challenges.
On April 17, 2013, an explosion at a fertilizer plant severely damaged half of the town of West and claimed 15 lives. The blast damaged the sanctuary at First Baptist Church, which was located within the perimeter of an area public safety officials closed, and the explosion destroyed Crowder’s home.
Even so, the congregation gathered on an open field four days later for worship, and Crowder preached a sermon from Psalm 46, urging his community to look to God as their refuge, strength and source of hope.
This spring, in a Baptist Standard “Voices” column, Crowder reflected on lessons learned from his community’s tragedy seven years ago and its recovery, and he offered hope beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of these days we will get through this. God has always been faithful to us, and he once again will guide us faithfully through this dark time,” he wrote.
“When we come out on the other side of the valley, we will see life is good, and we will be stronger people for having worked together when we needed each other the most.”