April 29 update
A second United Methodist church suffered major damage as tornadoes and other large storms moved east across the United States, randomly wreaking havoc and causing more deaths.
St. Luke United Methodist Church was among a handful of places of worship in Tupelo, Miss., to get clobbered by a tornado on Monday, April 28. On Sunday evening, April 27, a tornado that swept through Vilonia, Ark., near Little Rock, destroyed the buildings of Vilonia United Methodist Church, as well as mny homes and businesses.
Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference toured the devastation in Vilonia on Tuesday, including the church. He earlier released a video, updating conference members on the extent of the damage and outlining relief efforts.
He noted that many had contacted the conference already, wanting to know how to help. "I'm so grateful for your overwhelming support," he said.
Deadly tornadoes that swept through the upper South and Midwest April 27 had United Methodists, among others, assessing damage and preparing to offer relief.
By the next day, at least 15 deaths in Arkansas alone had been blamed on a fierce tornado that cut through 80 miles of suburban Little Rock, Ark., with the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower particularly hard hit.
Rescue workers were still searching for survivors in Vilonia, where many homes and buildings were destroyed, including a $14 million public school set to open this fall.
Vilonia United Methodist Church, northeast of Little Rock, suffered massive damage to its buildings, the officials of the denomination’s Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference reported.
Mayflower, Ark., also hit hard
Annual conferences affected by the storms are posting updates on their sites about their needs and responses. Conference sites that currently have updates include:
- Arkansas Conference
- Great Plains Conference
Follow additional news coverage and find resources at www.umc.org/disaster.
The nearby town of Mayflower also got clobbered, but Mayflower United Methodist Church largely escaped.
“We’ve got some shingles missing off the roof, but the building is intact,” said the Rev. Rick Wilkins, pastor. “We had a large tree come down on a metal storage building, but that’s inconsequential.”
Wilkins said some church members had their businesses destroyed, and others had their homes damaged. He’s aware of no fatalities or injuries among the congregation, but stressed that he doesn’t yet have a complete picture.
“I’ve called everybody I can get a hold of,” he said. “Some went straight to answering machines, and with some of them, the microwave cell phone towers have been knocked down.”
Wilkins said his church would be ready to offer food, blankets and anything else to those displaced by the storms. “We just need to determine what the need is,” he added.
Maumelle (Ark.) United Methodist Church is in another suburban community of Little Rock where tornadoes touched down. The church escaped damage, but at least three church members had damage to their homes, said the Rev. Zeke Allen, associate pastor.
Words of encouragement
Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference offered encouragement.
"Lives will be rebuilt," he said in a statement posted to the conference website. "Hope will return. And joy will be experienced again. All because the love of God has a way of bringing the best out of people in the worst of situations."
The Oklahoma Conference reported storm-related shingle damage to Quapaw United Methodist Church, in northeast Oklahoma, near the borders of Kansas and Missouri. The town of Quapaw had two storm-related deaths and about a dozen homes were destroyed.
The Rev. David Wilson, district superintendent for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said Quapaw is home to 10 Native American tribes.
Great Plains Conference officials reported slight damage to First United Methodist Church in Baxter Springs, Kan., another community hit by tornadoes and other storms Sunday.
Sixty to 70 homes there were badly damaged, and at least three of those belong to members of First Church. The conference’s disaster response team plans to travel to the area Tuesday.
Greg Forrester, UMCOR executive for U.S. disaster response, asked for continued prayers for survivors and the work of first-responders as well as for the safety of those in the path of new storms expected across the middle part of the United States.
He asked that United Methodist volunteers not go yet to affected areas but instead wait for direction from conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.
Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]