|United Methodists minister to families in mine
Jan. 11, 2006
The Rev. Mark Flynn
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
When the community of Buckhannon, W. Va., gathers to remember the miners who
died in the Sago Mine tragedy, it will probably be the voice of a 10-year-old
boy they will never forget.
Ti (Thomas Issaic) Anderson, son of Tom Anderson, will read Psalm 91 at a
community memorial service being organized by church leaders who were with the
families throughout the ordeal. The service will be at 2 p.m., Jan. 15, at
United Methodist-related West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.
Psalm 91 was his father’s favorite, Ti told the Rev. Mark Flynn, a United
Methodist pastor, as they waited in the Sago Baptist Church for news about the
Flynn, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Buckhannon, went to Sago
Baptist Church early Jan. 4 after getting a phone call from his wife, who had
heard news reports of a mining accident that had left 13 men trapped
underground. The families were gathering at the Baptist church to await news
about their loved ones.
Flynn, the Rev. Carol Duffield and the Rev. Clifford Schell were with the
families when they received word first that the miners were alive and then later
that 12 men — including Ti’s father — had died.
“I am not sure I have the words for it yet,” Duffield said of that night. “It
was overwhelming.” She is pastor of the Upshur Parish House, a United Methodist
mission project in Buckhannon.
“I can’t imagine this happening in a worse way,” Flynn said of the erroneous
reports that the miners were alive. “I was angry at how the coal company had
handled the families, but these folks showed a lot of grace and a lot of faith
and really ministered to me.”
|Photo courtesy of West Virginia Wesleyan College
A memorial service for the miners will be held in the chapel at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.
Schell, superintendent of the Wesleyan District of the West Virginia Annual
(regional) Conference, said the news that the miners were alive went through the
crowd like “a brush fire.”
Then at 2:30 a.m., Jan. 3, after three hours of celebration, a coal company
executive accompanied by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III and state troopers,
came into the church and told the families only one miner had survived.
“Immediately the joyful elation of the families turned to disbelief,
indescribable grief, anger, accusations and an emotional spin down that hurt as
they had never hurt before,” Schell said. “After anticipating their husbands,
fathers, sons and brothers would walk into the church, they now had to suddenly
deal with their deaths.”
The surviving miner remains in critical condition.
The long hours of waiting with the families in the sanctuary were punctuated
with many wonderful moments of sharing with the families, Duffield said.
“Steadfast hope and faith” were the overriding emotions within the sanctuary,
“I think the overall atmosphere within the sanctuary, which no news media
really reported, was this oneness. You would see families moving around and
trying to support each other. I think that unity was amazing to me. There were
moments where anger prevailed, but that was not the norm; the norm was families
sitting together or walking around and checking on other families.”
Flynn is working with the college chaplain to plan the community memorial
service. He said one of their biggest problems is so many people want to
participate. For him, working with so many church leaders in the community has
been a blessing that has arisen from the experience.
“Most of the pastors I worked with in this effort were from churches that are
not part of the W. Va. Council of Churches, pastors who are not in our
ministerial association — Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, independent
churches — and these folks were all so gracious, so good to work together.
|A UMNS photo by Doug Duffield
The pastor of Upshur Parish House, the Rev. Carol Duffield, is among those ministering to the miners’ families.
“It occurred to me if the only other folks we talk with are mainline
denominations, we are not as ecumenical as we need to be, and we are not as
prepared as we need to be to handle a crisis like this. We really need to be
talking with pastors and lay people in these other churches too.”
Both Flynn and Duffield said Buckhannon is not a mining town and is different
from the way it has been portrayed in the media. The main employer is the United
Methodist college. Flynn said only 5 percent of the population makes a living in
the mine fields.
At a visitation for one of the families, Flynn said the family shared with
him the letter the miner wrote while trapped underground.
“After telling me some of what was in the letter, the widow’s grandmother
said, ?And he had perfect grammar!’ One thing that says to me is that people’s
stereotypes about West Virginia miners need to be revised, need to be shattered.
The other thing is that man had a deep and abiding faith, and he knew he was in
God’s hands. If he could say those things — and say them perfectly — he was
composed. To me, that was something to rejoice about after all we had been
In addition to Anderson, Gov. Manchin will participate in the memorial
service by escorting the families into the chapel. The governor spent many hours
with the families during the ordeal. Flynn said a family member told a
colleague, “Mr. Manchin stepped out of his role as governor and became part of
One of the 12 miners who died was a member of Corley United Methodist Church.
A memorial service for Jackie L. Weaver, Philippi, W.Va., was conducted
Jan. 8 in Philippi led by the Rev. Destry Daniels, pastor at Corley, and the
Rev. Arden Beck, retired.
Schell said many pastors and United Methodists helped minister to the
families during those fateful hours. Several other United Methodist pastors
stood watch with the miners’ families during the ordeal, including the Rev.
Mitch Griffin, retired; the Rev. Dan Lowther, Frenchton Charge; the Rev. Sue
Lowther, Wilsontown Charge; and Tim Kelley, Burnsville Charge.
“Folks did what they could,” Schell said. “God knows this, and the rest was
in God's hands.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or
The Rev. Carol Duffield: "There was always this oneness."
The Rev. Mark Flynn: "I can't imagine this happening in a worse way."
The Rev. Mark Flynn: "It will be an image that will never be gone from my mind."
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Mine survivor remains critically ill
West Virginia Annual Conference
Upshur Cooperative Parish
West Virginia Wesleyan College