UM connection aids hurricane recovery

A hurricane-ravaged church in the Florida Panhandle is slowly rebounding, helped by agencies of The United Methodist Church and generous neighboring churches.

“We’re happy to be Methodists right now, because our annual conference is paying the staff payroll in October,” said the Rev. Craig Carter, of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church in Panama City, Florida. “Right now we pass all of our needs to Woodlawn, which has just been phenomenal in the help they provided our community.”

Woodlawn United Methodist Church, in nearby Panama City Beach, Florida, is coordinating the collection of supplies for Lynn Haven, as well as providing the candy for a planned “Trunk or Treat” Halloween for area youths. The trick-or-treating will be done at automobiles this year, since many homes in the region were destroyed by the Hurricane Michael.

Members of an early response team from the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church clean up storm debris left by Hurricane Michael in Donalsonville, Ga. Photo courtesy of the South Georgia Conference. 
Members of an early response team from the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church clean up storm debris left by Hurricane Michael in Donalsonville, Ga. Photo courtesy of the South Georgia Conference.
The hurricane damage looks like a tornado struck the area for 40 miles wide, he said.

“Our church was totally destroyed,” Carter said. “It took the entire roof off and also one and a half of the walls.” A children’s wing of the building was also destroyed, and half the recreation center’s roof was hurled onto the nearby road.

A 4,000-square-foot tent is expected next week courtesy of Crosspoint United Methodist Church in Niceville, Florida. It will be used for Sunday worship services. Attendance was about 250 the first Sunday after the storm and double that the next week.

The overall United Methodist Church response to the hurricane has pushed past the initial chaos to a more organized effort, said the program manager of U.S. disaster response for The United Methodist Committee on Relief.

A United Methodist volunteer team from Texas delivers generators to areas of South Georgia left without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Photo courtesy of the South Georgia Conference. 
A United Methodist volunteer team from Texas delivers generators to areas of South Georgia left without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Photo courtesy of the South Georgia Conference.
“Some are now reaching out to volunteers with specific skills,” the Rev. Greg Ellis said. “They will be reaching out to people with general skills later. There is still a limit to the amount of volunteers that can be hosted."

Hurricane Michael made its U.S. landfall on Oct. 12 near Mexico Beach, Florida, and was responsible for up to 35 deaths, according to The Weather Channel. Insured losses from Michael will range from $8 billion to $12 billion, reported ABC News.

In the heavily hit Alabama-West Florida Conference, Bishop David Graves on Oct. 19 appointed the Rev. Shawn York to concentrate on Hurricane Michael relief efforts.

“Shawn is a gifted leader who knows the Panhandle area well and has the experience we need to offer our best response,” Graves said.

York owned a construction company before going into ministry. He led flood relief efforts in 2014 in the Pensacola and Baypines districts and also led a response team after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

“He has worked other disasters … and is going around doing assessments,” Ellis said.

The executive pastor at Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in Gulf Breeze, Florida, York plans to continue preaching on Sundays while serving in his new role.

Some communities still lack basics like power and water.

The sanctuary of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church in Panama City, Fla., stands open to the sky following Hurricane Michael. Photo courtesy of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church. 
The sanctuary of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church in Panama City, Fla., stands open to the sky following Hurricane Michael. Photo courtesy of Lynn Haven United Methodist Church.
“The (Florida) Panhandle is still very unstable,” said Pam Garrison, disaster response coordinator for the Florida Conference. “We are once again humbled and grateful for the many ways our impacted churches began immediately to serve in their communities.”

Power has been restored to most of the Florida Conference, with the exception of some rural areas in Gadsden and Liberty counties. Once these areas have been stabilized, estimated at two to four weeks, volunteers will be needed as efforts transition from relief to recovery. Potential volunteers may go to www.flumc.org and click on the “Michael” icon to register.

Eighteen-hundred clean-up kits, 2,000 hygiene kits and three pallets of water from UMCOR will be arriving this week at the Florida operation’s base at First United Methodist Church of Apalachicola, Garrison said.

“As with Hermine, Matthew, Irma, Maria and now Michael, we have a marathon ahead of us,” Garrison said. “All of us will be needed to do our part.”

In the southwest part of the South Georgia Conference, volunteers are “very busy,” said Allison Lindsay, associate director of connectional ministries.

“There are lots of ministries feeding communities without power,” Lindsey said. A food truck from Dacula United Methodist Church in the North Georgia Conference was sent to Colquitt United Methodist Church in Colquitt, Georgia, to help feed storm victims. 

Members of Colquitt, some without power themselves, also handed out food from their food bank ministry last weekend. 

“It’s really exciting to see the church being the church,” Lindsey said. “We’re going to be there for a long time with this damage.”
 
Church volunteers from regions less impacted by Hurricane Michael are helping to address concerns in harder hit areas like Georgia and Florida.
 
“We have already sent three large tractor-trailers and a smaller truck with supplies,” said the Rev. Randy Burbank, disaster response and recovery coordinator for the North Alabama Conference. “We are staying in contact and waiting for them to be ready for us to come in and help in Florida and Georgia.”
 
Patterson is a United Methodist News Service reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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