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Trial by storm: UM churches reaching out after onslaught of tornadoes Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Mar 9, 2012
UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE PHOTO BY LINDA OXENDINE DOUGLAS
West Liberty United Methodist Church in Kentucky was nearly leveled in the recent storms. Louisville Area Bishop G. Lindsey Davis called on churches to respond with prayers and gifts.
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg United Methodist News Service
The twisters that ripped through the Midwest and South Feb. 28 and 29 ushered in another barrage of severe weather March 2 that killed at least 39 people in five states.
But even as United Methodists mourned losses, they continued to reach out.
One of the hardest-hit towns was West Liberty, Ky., population 3,435, reduced to rubble by 150 mph winds.
The Rev. Kenneth W. Jett Jr., pastor of West Liberty United Methodist Church, his wife, Jeanene, and two congregants ran for shelter in a small cubbyhole in the church basement as the building crumbled around them. Both the church and the parsonage sustained major damage.
James Morse, disaster response coordinator for the UMC’s Kentucky Conference, said the West Liberty church “may not be salvageable.” Louisville Area Bishop G. Lindsey Davis assured the devastated communities, “God sees our pain, and God will provide for us in these days to come.” Encouraging prayer, he said, “We are a generous people, and I urge our churches to respond by giving. . . . May God bless us as we work together.
“We are still in the early stages, but we are committed to rebuilding and ministering to people in the midst of turmoil.”
In battered Salyersville, Ky., the United Methodist church is still standing and serving as a feeding station three times a day, Bishop Davis said. Churches in the Kentucky Conference have already provided hundreds of blankets to a nursing home without power.
‘Rallying to assist’
In Ohio, the village of Moscow experienced the fury of an EF3 tornado with winds of about 160 mph. Three people lost their lives. Grant Memorial United Methodist Church, Point Pleasant, Ohio, is just three miles from Moscow.
“The congregation immediately went into servant mode, providing relief to those families affected by the tornadoes,” said the Rev. Jocelyn Roper, assistant to the Ohio River Valley district superintendent. Members provided food as the church became a depository for relief supplies.
“The churches have done everything they could to help,” Ms. Roper said. “They’ve tried to be very creative” in their response. “This is a very rural area, close to the river. These folks usually get affected by floods. They don’t expect tornadoes.”
According to news reports March 5, many still lacked electricity as snow, rain and plummeting temperatures hampered cleanup efforts. Volunteers from the Tennessee Conference continued to respond to the deadly tornado outbreak experienced across the South. “Our hearts and prayers are with those affected by these devastating storms,” said Brandon Hulette, director of mercy, mission and disaster recovery for the conference.
Tornadoes touched down in several parts of Middle Tennessee on March 3.
By Saturday evening, the conference had deployed two trained emergency response teams to Kingston Springs, Tenn., with operations based out of the United Methodist church there, which was damaged in the storm.
In addition, two emergency response teams were deployed to the Dodson Branch area of Jackson County in Tennessee. Conference personnel are coordinating the volunteer effort there in conjunction with partner agencies, Mr. Hulette said.
In Rome, Ga., members of the 350-member Chapel Hill United Methodist Church offered storm survivors and volunteers “comfort food”—steaming bowls of soups and stews. The congregation counted their blessings, particularly because the tornado struck just two hours after the Lenten service.
The Rev. Ken Kulp said members felt called to reach out to their hurting community and to give thanks for the lives that were spared. “Our plan was to bring volunteers and [survivors] together,” he said, calling it “a bit of therapeutic ministry.”
The sanctuary’s minor structural damage was repaired in time for Sunday worship, but “the mission building took a pretty hard hit,” Mr. Kulp said. “It was knocked off its foundation about a foot.”
The earliest reports of tornadoes on March 2 came from the Huntsville, Ala., area, still reeling from April 2011 twisters. No United Methodist churches reported losses of life or property, Danette Clifton, North Alabama Conference communicator, said.
In the Alabama-West Florida Conference, the Verbena United Methodist Church received the most damage. Several members of the congregation and the community had major damage to their homes. The conference has a couple of disaster response teams working in the area, and “progress is slowly being made,” according to an email received March 5.
Harveyville, Kan., a town of 200, lost its only United Methodist church Feb. 28. The United Methodists worshipped Sunday with their Church of Christ neighbors and celebrated that two of their church’s stained-glass windows survived the tornado.
In Harrisburg, Ill., which bore much of the brunt of the midweek twisters, the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, head of U.S. disaster response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was surveying damage March 5 with Bishop Gregory Palmer and disaster response officials of the denomination’s Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
Several members of Harrisburg UMC were among the many who lost homes, said Bishop Palmer in an earlier pastoral letter about the storm. He said the church was serving as a disaster response center.
The area saw at least six tornado-related deaths, including an on-duty nurse at Harrisburg Medical Center, where 100 people were treated for injuries.
“Pray for the people of Southern Illinois,” Bishop Palmer said in the pastoral letter. “Above everything else, we can uphold our sisters and brothers, knowing that in these times where our faith is tested, God is the nearest.”
In a posting on Twitter, Mr. Hazelwood reported that the United Methodist church in nearby Ridgway was fine, but that St. Joseph’s Catholic Church a block away had been destroyed.
Mr. Hazelwood planned to visit later in the week parts of Indiana and Kentucky struck by the tornadoes.
The Rev. Charles Wilfong, a district superintendent in the Indiana Conference, reported widespread damage, especially in the towns of Henryville, Marysville, Pekin and Palmyra.
“I learned that two Pekin UMC families have lost their homes,” Mr. Wilfong said in an email message, adding that several congregants were in serious condition and hospitalized. “The church, parsonage and family life center all have power restored, and the congregation is rallying to assist the community.”
Bishop Mike Coyner of the Indiana Conference joined members of the conference’s Disaster Response Team for a March 5 meeting with the Rev. Wilma Sawyer Bone, pastor of Henryville UMC. The bishop promised support for her and her 105-member congregation.
The southern Indiana town of Henryville, with a population of under 2,000, is reeling from deaths and property damage suffered when a tornado struck on March 2. A local high school and Baptist church were destroyed. Henryville UMC had mostly minor exterior damage, but also a hole in the sanctuary ceiling.
Indiana UMC churches have been collecting supplies for families affected by the tornadoes, and relief workers will be helping farmers clear their fields of debris.
A group of nine UM clergy and laity from the Memphis Conference, which includes West Tennessee and Western Kentucky, did debris cleaning March 3 in Bandana, Ky. A Feb. 29 storm there caused considerable damage, including blowing down the steeple from Bandana UMC. That church also lost shingles.
“We were very, very lucky to have escaped these storms with no loss of life, and I am grateful,” said the Rev. Sky McCracken, Paducah District Superintendent, and among those helping with debris removal.
How to Help
Those wanting to help tornado victims can give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), specifying Advance # 901670, “Tornadoes 2012.”
Make a check payable to UMCOR and mail to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, N.Y., 10087. Donations are also accepted by phone at (800) 544-8583 and online at www.umcor.org.