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Showing love and support in the face of COVID-19

Showing love and support in the face of COVID-19

COVID-19 Missions and Outreach

Jessie Loretta McSwain Denson was loved by those who knew her in and around Lake City. She was that indispensable person every town needs.

People at Trinity United Methodist Church knew they could count on her, but her ministry went far beyond the church's walls. She was a long-time volunteer with the Lake City Pop Warner football program and was even Volunteer of the Year in 2015. She volunteered at a local community center and was a poll worker for the Columbia County Supervisor of Elections.

If someone needed a place to stay, her home became their home. 

So, when she died on August 15, the news deeply affected the hundreds of people who loved her and wanted to provide a proper sendoff to her new home in heaven. 

A repast -- from the Latin word meaning "to eat" -- is often part of any home-going service. It gives the family and mourners a bit of needed closure and fellowship. But how could that happen in the COVID-19 world, especially given the large number of people who wanted to share in that moment?

Her husband of 42 years, James "Bubba" Denson, had an idea.

He asked if the church could prepare a non-traditional repast to be distributed after the family returned from a graveside service.

“I never liked funeral homes and wanted a more homelike, homegoing," James said. "I asked them to fix the trays and have them ready when we returned. The church came together and made a tough situation easier to bear.”

He suggested that the food could be placed in takeout containers and placed on a table outside. People could walk or drive up and get their food. 

The people of Trinity took it from there.
Rev. Dr. Pamela Green
"When I came to Trinity, I was told that when it comes time to pull something together, the church comes through," Rev. Dr. Pamela Green said. "And that's exactly what happened. It just organically evolved. You can see God's hand in this."

The church provided the meat and members prepared other dishes and desserts.

"When we returned from the graveside services, they had all the food set up in trays and carryout containers. They put it outside on the table and put a rope around the table," Rev. Green said. "They had the sidewalk marked off in 6-foot sections. It was balancing that tension that we want to respect tradition."

Teams of workers efficiently performed the needed tasks.

The Board of Trustees came together and secured the premises with orange tape and rope to designate the line for people to walk through.  Penelope Bellamy put 150 face masks in individual Ziplock bags for people to take as needed.

“Being a lifelong member of TUMC coupled with the fact that our loved one lived literally across the street from the church being able to provide them comfort and solace during their grieving able was a humbling event," Staff Parish Relations Committee Chairperson Akil Tunsil said.

"To be able to pull it off the way we did and it being our first time doing it confirmed for me how awesome God is.”
Jesse's good friend, Estralita Parker, stayed at the church and prepared the covered plates along with County Commissioner, Ron Williams.

"I just was not ready to attend the graveside service.  It is just not real to me yet," Estralita said. " So, I stayed back and prepared the plates for the repast. It lessened the pain of the loss of my friend.  This was my way of letting her know I still love her.”  

A line of cars estimated to stretch between three and four miles snaked its way toward the church. Many who didn't attend the service stood with their hands over their hearts in a show of respect as the cars passed.

Following COVID-19 guidelines, Estralita and Ron prepared 250 takeout platters for those who attended the graveside service to eat when they returned. The dinners were stacked on a table and were handed out as people came through a socially distanced line.

It took about two hours to distribute all the meals.

After 2 hours the food was distributed to the family, relatives and friends.  The sanitation team cleaned up the Fellowship Hall, in preparation for the Blessing of the Backpacks Worship Service being held the next day.

“We are living in a tough time.  We must find a way to work around staying safe and still see to the needs of the people. We must wear masks, social distance and wash our hands.  If we all do this, we can flatten the curve," County Commissioner Williams said.

"We are family in the eyes of God. We have to do what we can to make the family feel comfortable. She was a very special person to me.”

It showed two things to Rev. Green – how much Loretta was loved, and how Trinity members can be the hands and feet of Jesus.

"We were trying to do what we could to support and comfort the family," she said. "It was a loving gesture on many levels. It said that we're here with you in this time. Coming together helps us grieve. 

"Nothing stops the word of God nor the safe way to offer loving care to our members and members of the community, not even COVID-19."

--Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

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