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Bishop sends messages of comfort during Gustav

Bishop William W. Hutchinson coordinates response to Hurricane Gustav from the storm-damaged sanctuary of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Maringouin, La.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 9, 2008 | BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS)

As Hurricane Gustav made a beeline for the coast of Louisiana, Bishop William W. Hutchinson sent messages of comfort and warning to clergy and church members.

“It really meant a lot to people to hear their bishop’s voice offering comfort and words of advice,” said Rhonda Whitley, assistant to the Rev. Don Cottrill, director of connectional ministries.

The bishop used IRIS, a mass notification system designed by TechRadium, a software development and communications company based in Texas. For a monthly fee, the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference is equipped to send out e-mail and voice mail to thousands in just a matter of minutes, Whitley said.

Messages went to clergy and key lay leaders on their cell phones and landlines as well as through e-mail. Even when the conference office in Baton Rouge lost Internet connection, the bishop was able to record messages on his cell phone and route them through Texas.

When Gustav made landfall Sept. 1, the conference was well prepared because of the experience it had gained in the three years since Hurricane Katrina, officials said. One of the important lessons learned was the need to have pastors evacuate during potential danger.

Hutchinson’s first message told pastors “don’t be heroes, get out of harm’s way,” and he gave them instructions on how to secure their churches and property. Once the danger passed, pastors were told to call the conference office with updates on their whereabouts.

After Katrina, it took some time to hear from all the evacuated pastors, said the Rev. Darryl Tate, conference director of disaster response.

Cottrill and his staff are watching Hurricane Ike closely. The storm had already killed nearly 80 people in the Caribbean as of midday Sept. 9. It was expected to hit Mexico and Texas within a few days.

Need for support

“We begin a new week of assessment and activity, trying to get needed supplies to the hardest hit areas,” Hutchinson said in a letter Sept. 8. “That will be our priority for some time. Fortunately, we have an extensive system of case managers and construction people already in place, and we will be using those folks to their capacity as we move into those phases.”

Volunteer cleanup teams should contact the conference disaster response ministry at laumdisastermin@bellsouth.net or (225) 346-5193.

Financial donations can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, "Hurricanes 2008, Hurricane Gustav." Mail checks to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, and write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Credit-card donations can be made online.

On the Sunday following Gustav’s landfall, Hutchinson preached at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in New Orleans. He noted the irony of the church being rededicated that day, three years after its destruction by Katrina.

“Today, it is a beautifully restored building that is a testimony to the perseverance of that congregation and the efforts, love, money and prayers of much of United Methodism that helped put them back together.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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