Most Austin churches to stay virtual on Palm Sunday with essential designation


Decker United Methodist Church provides palms for pick up ahead of its virtual Palm Sunday service tomorrow. (KXAN Photo: Alex Hoder)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Days before Palm Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott decided religious services are essential during the COVID-19 crisis. ​ This leaves open the possibility of large gatherings at churches in Texas. ​   

Abbott added he wants to encourage churches to continue providing services online. He said if people need to meet, they should follow the federal guidance which restricts gatherings of 10 or more people. In a Texas Tribune article, some state lawmakers expressed concerns.    

The Governor’s decision came as pastors in the Houston area challenged a Harris County Judge’s stay-at-home order. ​Several Austin-area churches, however, say they’re following local city leaders advice leading into Palm Sunday.

“We are honored that Gov. Abbott is allowing churches to do that,” said Adam Watson, The Well Austin Pastor. “We also see this as an opportunity to honor our local officials. We have sought to continue to do this virtually so that all of our people can continue to do this virtually during this time.”

The Austin Stone virtual service.

Adam Watson is a pastor at the Well church in East Austin. On a typical Sunday, his church sets up a sanctuary inside an Austin Independent School District Auditorium. Hundreds attend their services. In recent weeks, worship leaders and church pastors have set up a virtual service inside their living rooms.

The Austin Stone, an Austin mega church, has decided to do the same.

“I wanted to let you know that we miss gathering together with you,” said Austin Stone Pastor Tyler David during a Sunday service.

Saturday, other churches in the Austin area had some unique set-ups leading up to Palm Sunday. Decker United Methodist handed out palms for people to waive during their Sunday live stream.

Decker United Methodist handed out palms for people to waive during their Sunday live stream. KXAN/Alex Hoder

Inside the San Jose Catholic Church, church leaders printed out its members faces and taped the photos along the sanctuary chairs.

If a church chooses to do so, they can hold in-person services. The City on a Hill Pastor in Houston has chosen to do that. Pastor Juan Bustamante is one of the Houston-area pastors who challenged local leaders.

“We aren’t in rebellion to our governing officials,” said Pastor Juan Bustamante. “We want to bring hope, we want to bring faith.”

Church will look a lot differently than the norm this Palm and Easter Sunday, but Pastor Adam Watson says one things is for sure.

“He uses people more often than not to bless us,” said Watson.

Watson says encouragement is what the world needs right now.

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