|Mississippi church leaders look to long haul for recovery |
Sept. 1, 2005
|Courtesy of AP/Rob Carr
Rhonda Braden walks through the destruction in her childhood neighborhood in Long Beach, Miss.
By Woody Woodrick*
JACKSON, Miss. (UMNS) — United Methodist leaders in Mississippi have
started assessing their role in helping the state recover from the
devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward called district superintendents, disaster relief
coordinators, conference staff, and others to Jackson Aug. 31 to begin
laying the groundwork for what is expected to be years of assistance
that will be needed.
Katrina slammed into Mississippi and Louisiana on Aug. 29. More than 100
are known dead in Mississippi, and the number is expected to increase.
Massive destruction along the Mississippi coast line has left tens of
thousands homeless. Damage has reached across the length and breadth of
Power remained out as far north as Philadelphia, Miss., some 200 miles
north of the gulf, Aug. 31. Immediate response also was hampered by
gasoline shortages. Some stations with gas had no power, and shortages
were reported around the state.
Those at the Aug. 31 meeting included the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, disaster
response coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood
As Ward told those at the meeting to remember — and to remind local
churches — that “UMCOR is us.” She emphasized that the work UMCOR will
do over the next several months and even years will be done by United
The bishop asked about the status of pastors serving in the hardest-hit
areas. The Rev. Jerry Beam, Seashore District superintendent, said he
had been in contact, either directly or indirectly, with nearly half of
his pastors. It is believed most of the pastors evacuated the area, but
contacting pastors and others in the coastal counties has been hampered
by the destruction of communications infrastructure.
Most of the damage appears to be in the Seashore, Hattiesburg and
Meridian districts, although damage is evident in the Brookhaven
District, according to district superintendents at the meeting.
In the Hattiesburg and Meridian districts, downed trees caused
widespread power outages. Hattiesburg, about 70 miles north of the gulf,
was hit by hurricane-force winds. Communication is possible in most
areas. The power outage forced the University of Southern Mississippi,
located in Hattiesburg, to suspend classes indefinitely.
The Meridian District also reported mostly damage from falling trees.
While that might take weeks to clear, the Rev. Andy Ray, superintendent,
indicated the damage was not catastrophic.
That was not the case in the Seashore District. Access to the area was
severely limited, as Red Cross and government official conduct
search-and-rescue operations. News reports indicated some towns on the
coast are simply gone. Katrina’s storm surge wiped out homes, businesses
United Methodist facilities were not immune. Reports say Leggett
Memorial United Methodist Church in Biloxi, which faced the beach, is
“gone.” Seashore Assembly, a retreat facility next to Leggett, lost all
of its buildings except the cafeteria. Seashore personnel Art Steinaway
and Scott Carter were reportedly serving Red Cross-provided meals from
the facility. Arlean Hall, a building owned by United Methodist Women on
the Seashore campus, was reported to be heavily damaged.
|Web-only image courtesy of S. Carpenter
A fallen tree in Bogue Chitto, Miss. shows the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Seashore Retirement Community, owned by Mississippi Methodist Senior
Services Inc. and located near Seashore Assembly, sustained serious
damage. Some 58 residents and a few staff members rode out the storm
there, but the residents are now being transferred to other Senior
Services facilities in the state.
Another church in the Biloxi area, Safe Harbor United Methodist Church, and its parsonage are reported to be destroyed.
Gulfside Assembly, a historic retreat center belonging to the
Southeastern Jurisdiction in Waveland — west of Biloxi — is presumed to
have sustained heavy damage. The eye of the storm passed over Waveland,
and reports say the small community “has been flattened.”
Two Seashore pastors who evacuated north attended the meeting: the Rev.
Jim Genesse of Long Beach (Miss.) First United Methodist Church and the
Rev. Paul Knight of Gateway United Methodist Church in Gulfport.
Genesse reported that one of his church members flew over the Long Beach
area, and that the First Church secretary managed to reach the
building. Their reports indicated the building was standing and appeared
to have minimal roof damage. It was unclear whether the church, which
just opened a new building, had structural damage.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Knight said he could get no word on the condition of Gateway Church or
his home. On the eastern end of the coast, Pascagoula First United
Methodist Church sustained damage and its parsonage has been destroyed.
More reports are expected.
Ward, Hazelwood and others with the Mississippi Conference were
scheduled to inspect damage in Meridian and Hattiesburg Sept. 1. Ward
said she hopes to make a trip to the Gulf Coast as soon as possible.
Immediate needs for the Gulf Coast are ice, food and water. Government
organizations have trucks arriving daily, but need is expected to be
greater than supply.
Acknowledging the eagerness of many United Methodists to assist, the
Rev. Jeff Pruett, conference disaster response coordinator, said the
Gulf Coast was not ready for work teams.
However, other areas in the Meridian and Hattiesburg districts that
sustained tree damage could use help sooner. All teams from Mississippi
and teams from out of state wanting to work in the coming weeks and
months, can contact the conference office toll-free at (866) 647-7486
(866-MISS4UM) or contact Pruett, email@example.com or (662)
541-5900. Early response teams from outside Mississippi should contact
MERCI Center at (888) 440-9167.
As the recovery progresses, Pruett said UMCOR needs flood buckets and
health kits, and he encouraged churches and groups that want to help
immediately to begin putting together those items. He said cash
donations were also needed.
Ward said all United Methodists can provide three things immediately: prayer, gifts and volunteers.
“Go and do,” she said. “Be creative. Make a commitment with someone you know who has been hurt by this storm.”
Donations to support the United Methodist response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org
and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR,
designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in
church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New
York, NY 10087-9068.
*Woodrick is editor of the Mississippi Advocate, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Mississippi Annual Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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