Bering United Methodist Church

This is what a church does…it helps people in need

Do you ever wonder what happens to your money after it disappears into the collection plate? I have been a Bering member since the late 70s. I have served on nearly every committee in the church and also as a delegate to annual conference. I am still here because I am proud the way this church and the United Methodist Church spends your money and how I have spent and am still spending your money.

Dr. Edwin Cordray, Bering member and dentist

Dr. Edwin Cordray, Bering member and dentist

In the early days of AIDS, Bering was at ground zero. We
were overwhelmed with caring for our friends and also strangers – with their sudden sickness, trying to get them treated, caring for them, in many cases getting shelter because their families had disowned them. And worst of all, watching them suffer — then die.
Bering conducted funerals almost daily; on one Holy Thursday, there were three! This entire congregation joined in to help in any way that they could.

Also, at ground zero were the dentists of the Montrose area. In our office we began to see horrible oral lesions and many patients were coming into our offices due to intense pain. When I looked and saw some of these lesions, I would say to my self, “What in the Hell am I looking at?” I use that word, Hell, in the literal sense as what I saw looked like and hurt like it came from the deepest depths of Hell. As the disease spread, so did panic. And, 99.999% of the dentists in Houston began to dismiss anyone from their office who they thought could possibly be infected. One sure way to be dismissed from a practice was to be a single male and have the zip code of 77006. Our offices were inundated. These people were our patients, our friends, our family, and our loved ones. In the early days of this disease it was 18 months from diagnosis to death and AIDS not only was taking their lives — it was taking their money and for many, their families.

The dental clinic opens….

This church acted. Several of us dentists got together and discussed what we were seeing and which treatment worked and which did not. We were all sent back to our pathology books and tried to get any information that we could; but little was around. The dental school here made it

quite clear they were not going to help as they were in panic and gripped with homophobia. Later, they changed and became extremely helpful. It became quite clear to us that we needed the larger community to help so the idea of creating a charitable dental clinic for HIV patients was hatched. Our patients were not only sick; they were impoverished. We could not turn them away; but the financial burden of dispensing charity from the office would soon put us out of business. We looked and looked for a place to set up a charitable dental clinic — no one would take us.

At that time Bering was a small congregation consisting of some typical people from Montrose, but mostly blue hairs. I suggested putting it in our church. All of the involved dentists were delighted even though none attended Bering. So, I took it to our administrative board — of which 90% were blue hairs and I presented the idea. At that time we were not sure how the disease was spread, but it was pretty obvious it was not spread causally. I shared with the board what knowledge I had about the risk to them and when the vote was taken, it was 100% “yes” and how could they help. This is not to say the whole congregation stayed — some left and the Montessori school that was renting some of our educational building left. With them, our main source of income.

So it began, with volunteers from Bering and other places, a dental clinic was set up. I saw so many miracles – the people of our community helping to do this and setting up programs of needed assistance in other areas, too.

Bering Dental Clinic

Bering Dental Clinic

We opened the clinic on Fridays only – a place where stricken people could find help in a loving and accepting environment. At first, the best we could do was to make patients comfortable so that they would be able to nourish themselves while they were working with their medical team to treat the infections that were taking their lives. We dentists learned from each other and from the medical community what we could, but there was no Dr. Google. We heard that there were some schools in New York and San Francisco that were studying this new disease intensely. At the same time, word spread that there was an island in Texas, Bering, which offered spiritual support (and our support group still goes on today), dental services, day care, and more. A company rep from Proctor and Gamble came to us and asked if they could donate a new mouthwash that they thought would be helpful. When they saw what we were trying to do, the rep went to the company and came back with an offer to fly the head of Oral Pathology and some of their staff from the University of San Francisco to Houston. We had a gathering of local doctors and dentists listening to what was current in the world of academia in what is now the basement of Bering. Proctor and Gamble even sent several of us to San Diego to a nationwide gathering of dentists and physicians to learn current treatment modalities.

That was then, this is now…

Later Dr. Mark Nichols joined us and took the dental clinic to a new level — where it to this day, a highly respected clinic. Now the dental school runs rotations through the clinic for their students.

Yes, we spent Bering’s money and when we needed more, our then pastor, Dr. Don Sinclair, got our bishop to help. Bishop Ben Oliphant, was a good man not just a placeholder. Bishop Oliphant told Don, “Go ahead with your missions at Bering. I’ll get you some money.” Soon St. Luke’s UMC gave us $30,000! A hefty sum to start! Then Bishop Oliphant got the conference to donate money for our spiritual support group.

In these early days of this hellish disease, Bering Memorial UMC, St. Luke’s UMC, and the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church were the ONLY, not one of, BUT THE ONLY churches to offer any aid and comfort to these first HIV stricken people. We had the Baptist church down the road that was proclaiming this was God’s revenge on the sin of homosexuals. That church is now gone and apartments are being built on their site. We are still here. Other churches offered excuses why they could not help. Later that changed and many helped, thank God.

 

That was then, now I run the sound board for the lights and mikes and I work with Mary’s Second Blessings. Let me tell you what I witnessed this past week. There was a young man standing outside the back door to the parking lot. He was in his 20s and very well spoken. He was holding a suit in one of those bags one gets from the store – he had the biggest smile on his face. When we passed, I said, “Hello.” He said, “I have never owned a suit before,” he was close to tears. I asked him if was he going to a party and he said no – he had a job interview and wanted to look nice. Sophia, who works in the men’s department, had given him this suit and even hemmed the trousers for him.

Second Blessings team; Sophia, Mike, and Mary

Second Blessings team; Sophia, Mike, and Mary

People, to me that is what a church does – it helps people when they are in need. That’s why I come here and that is why I give my money.

I have served on the finance committee in the past and preparing our budget is a difficult task. You can help by determining how much you can give and then make a pledge and then watch it disappear into the plate. We try to include everyone that comes to us. If we have failed you, include yourself! That is the best way to be included. Then come and help us spend your money.

Thanks,

Ed

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