|United Methodists respond in aftermath of crash|
Clarence Center (N.Y.) United Methodist Church has become a temporary
memorial site. UMNS photos by Ken Kasperek.
By Marilyn J. Kasperek*
Feb. 16, 2009 | CLARENCE CENTER, N.Y. (UMNS)
United Methodists have actively joined the effort to help those impacted by the loss of Continental Flight 3407.
That flight was about seven miles from Buffalo Niagara International
Airport when it went down around 10:20 p.m. on Feb. 12, striking a
house in Clarence Center. All 49 people aboard were killed, along with
one person in the house.
United Methodists were among the first responders on the scene, law
enforcement securing the area, clergy responding to calls, volunteers
caring for the families of those lost, and many praying and asking “how
can we help.”
The Rev. Don and Barb Weaver—veterans on the Red Cross Critical
Response team and members of the United Methodist Western New York
Conference—were called for help early on Feb. 13 by the local Red Cross.
Within 20 minutes, they had pulled together what they needed. Gini
Archer and Dot Norsen of Victor United Methodist Church and Judy Bezon,
formerly of Sodus United Methodist Church, joined the Weavers and set
up a child-friendly place where many of the grieving families are
In Clarence Center, the small, closely-knit community where the plane
went down, the Reverends Chuck Smith and David Kofahl joined with other
clergy in the Town of Clarence to offer comfort, listen to
conversations and concerns, and to begin to craft response to community
needs expected once the attention leaves.
“We are trying to prepare for after the media pulls out,” said Smith,
pastor of Clarence Center United Methodist Church. “So much is
unresolved right now, changing so fast. Everyone wants to help.”
Camera crews set up for a Feb. 15
service at Clarence Center (N.Y.)
United Methodist Church.
Temporary memorial site
His congregation, located at the corner of Clarence Center and Herr
Road, is a temporary memorial site for those wishing to drop off
expressions of sympathy. The temporary site will be cared for by the
congregation. Once access is available to the scene of the tragedy,
they will respectfully transfer the items to that location.
During services at the Clarence Center Church on Feb. 15, the church bells tolled 50 times, once for each of the dead.
At the family center, there are pillows on the floor for snuggling up
to read a book, Playdoh, paints and markers, glue and scissors for
creative expression, learning and sharing centers, cuddly toys,
puppets, and a suitcase filled with blocks and tools.
A mat on the floor is filled with emergency vehicles and airplanes
where children can play through what they are experiencing with someone
close by to listen, hug, and just be there.
Team members are highly trained, credentialed, and experienced giving
children a safe secure support system. “It is so important to have
people trained to know what to do with children in times of disaster,”
said Mrs. Weaver.
She has seen the value, having set up similar centers following
numerous disasters around the world, including the Family Assistance
Center following 9/11. There, the team saw about 100 children a day,
each having experienced the death of someone they loved.
Families who have lost loved ones in the crash are given a safe secure
place to stay, away from the media, where they can receive information
before it is released to the public, share their experiences with each
other, and access support from counselors and others trained to walk
with others through this kind of disaster.
Prepared to be present for the families for up to 10 days, the team
makes themselves as available as they can to parents and children, the
The Rev. Chuck Smith, pastor of Clarence Center (N.Y.) United Methodist Church,
is interviewed by the media.
Heard flight fly over
Smith and his family heard Flight 3407 fly over and experienced
their home shaking three times shortly thereafter. They live about a
half-mile to the east of the crash site. “Many parents are asking me
how to reassure their children, knowing their homes will remain on the
flight path,” he said.
Available to first responders in the initial hours following the crash,
Clarence pastors were able to help coordinate obtaining needed food and
other supplies for those helping throughout the day on Feb. 13.
They and many United Methodists from their congregations shared in a
community prayer service at the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church that
afternoon, offering support in any way they could. Smith noted that
they may make counselors available to the community at large if it is
determined to be helpful.
The Rev. Keith Manry, pastor of nearby Akron (N.Y.) First United
Methodist Church and chaplain of the Akron Volunteer Fire Company, was
present at the fire hall when the eight-man crew called to the crash
site returned. Experiences at the scene need to stay within the fire
company, so his ability to be there for them was critical, according to
the Akron Fire Chief Terry Lotz.
"I'm inspired by these volunteers," Manry said, "it is profound the
depth of their commitment to others, that they can deal with what they
have seen and return home to their regular jobs, ready to do it again."
One United Methodist congregation spent Feb. 13 rallying around one of
their families, bringing meals, listening, and caring. One United
Methodist clergy member lost a close friend. All were living out their
faith within a community in shock and only beginning to grieve.
“Most of it is time together,” Mrs. Weaver said, “to be present and provide an opportunity for healing.”
*Marilyn J. Kasperek is director of communications for the United
Methodist Western New York and North Central New York Annual
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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