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By Madeline White

Grace UMC in Manassas, Va., was open all day on Thursday, May 28, performing an important task—acting as an outdoor testing site for COVID-19 for Manassas citizens who are under-served and uninsured. 

To make this a reality, it all started with a conversation and a solid relationship between the church and the city government.

“Early on in the pandemic, I mentioned to the mayor of Manassas and two of the city managers, who are members of Grace, that if there’s anything we can do to support the community safely in this time, we want to do it,” the Rev. Drew Colby, senior pastor of Grace UMC, said.

Several weeks later, one of the city managers called Colby and shared that one of their testing sites had fallen through and to ask if Grace was willing to step in to take their place.

After discussions with the church council, staff, and director of Church Operations, as well as discussion with the district superintendent and Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, it was a “yes” from Grace UMC.

On the day, one pastor from the church was onsite to observe and monitor the testing while all volunteers and organizations for the event came from the city of Manassas with the tests being conducted by Prince William Health District. No appointments were needed and 300 tests were available for symptomatic people.

For Colby, being able to say “yes” to city government in this way meant the church showed up for its community and made steps toward fulfilling its mission.

“The name of our church is Grace UMC, and one motto we’ve used recently is ‘Our name is our mission,’” Colby said. “Of the nearly 300 persons tested that day, a full quarter of them tested positive for COVID-19. It’s not too much to say that this partnership between church and community, likely saved dozens of people from illness or even death.”

The response from the Manassas community was what Colby described as “one of the most widely celebrated and ‘shared’ events the church has experienced.” On social media, neighbors, church members, community leaders, and candidates for upcoming city elections shared the event widely. Afterward, the church was publically thanked by the city council members and city managers.

Colby stressed that the church was able to serve in this way because of existing, intentionally-built relationships with city government prior to the pandemic outbreak.

“This is a reminder to myself and others of the importance of building relationships beyond the walls of the church so that when opportunities to serve and bless others arise, the community knows who to call,” Colby said.

-Madeline Pillow White is the conference director of Communications.