Sept. 12, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Woody Woodrick
Adam Lowery (left) and Roy Frazier of First United Methodist Church in Alabaster, Ala., cut up a tree in a yard in Laurel, Miss.
By Woody Woodrick*
Miss. (UMNS) — As Mississippi begins pulling itself out of the rubble
left by Hurricane Katrina, United Methodists have become "the face of
grace in action."
response of the church has been the face of grace in action," said the
Rev. Jeff Pruett of Tunica, the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference
coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "It has been a
reflection of the spirit of care and compassion.
response with food and water has been overwhelming. We’ve been able to
work with other agencies in communities when they were not able to get
Katrina hit the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, inflicting heavy damage on
communities south of a railroad line about a mile inland that runs
parallel to the gulf. As the storm moved inland, it also damaged towns
and cities as far as 200 miles to the north.
Louisiana, the storm surge flooded much of the southeastern part of the
state, including New Orleans. As much as 80 percent of the city was
flooded. As of Sept. 12, the death toll has passed 400.
Mississippi, an estimated 211 lives were lost. The towns of Waveland
and Pass Christian were virtually wiped out. The United Methodist
Church’s historic Gulfside Assembly in Waveland suffered catastrophic
damage. Gulfside was opened in 1923 as a retreat and recreation center
for African Americans who were not permitted to use most resorts in the
segregated South, and it later became a retreat center for the entire
The Rev. John Moore,
director of Connectional Ministries for the Mississippi Conference,
credited Bishop Hope Morgan Ward’s experience with dealing with storms
in North Carolina as the key to galvanizing the conference’s recovery
and relief efforts.
|A UMNS photo by Woody Woodrick
Volunteers stack items in a distribution center at First United Methodist Church in Laurel, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina.
also praised the district superintendents and churches of the northern
end of the state for their eagerness to help. "People want to help in
any way they can," he said.
clergy in the Seashore District pulled their church members together
for both relief and worship, he noted. "The clergy, even though they
were victims, were able to seize the moment to bring their people
together where there were churches still standing," he said. "Where they
weren’t standing, they still gathered on Sunday and worshipped God and
were able to claim the grace of God as the source of our strength to
deal with what we’ve got to deal with."
addition, the Seashore Mission in Biloxi was destroyed. Moore Community
House in Biloxi was heavily damaged, and the building might have to be
torn down. The conference is uncertain about the fate of people who are
believed to have tried riding out the storm at the Seashore Mission and
at Mount Zion.
Katrina knocked out communications in the South Mississippi, small
communities were left stranded. As a result, the conference was just
learning the condition of some churches and their members as many as 10
days after the storm, Moore said.
think this storm has wakened us to a reality that we said with our
heads but now know with our hearts: We are a conference of rural
churches," Moore said. "Nothing has driven the point home any more than
to realize that the connections that we hoped we had with smaller
churches perhaps were not as good as we had hoped.
"We’re still days later finding that we’ve got small rural communities out there that we did not know about."
enormity of the damage in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties
overshadowed damage to communities in other areas. The Poplarville and
Picayune areas sustained heavy damage and did not receive aid for
several days. Also, Walthall and Pike counties sustained heavy wind
damage. The areas around Meridian and Laurel were hard hit by winds that
toppled giant oak and pine trees.
volunteer teams are working to remove debris. "We have teams in five or
six counties working on the recovery effort," Pruett said.
The Rev. Robert McCoy of Baldwyn, the conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator, is scheduling work teams.
of Mississippi United Methodist churches opened as shelters before and
during the storm. Many of the shelters are still operating as federal
and state emergency management organizations seek temporary housing for
thousands who lost their homes.
get emotional thinking about what people have done," Pruett said. "FEMA
(Federal Emergency Management Authority) and MEMA (Mississippi
Emergency Management Authority) had plans. This was bigger than those
plans had ever imagined. Likewise, God’s people responded in ways more
than we could imagine."
congregations, such as Meridian Central, Madison and Brandon Crossgates
United Methodist churches, planned their response by being certified as
Red Cross shelters. Others responded to the need by opening as shelters
or serving other purposes.
Christ United Methodist Church opened a distribution center to supply
shelters. Within 36 hours, the gymnasium and other areas of the church
were full of supplies.
Mississippi Conference moved quickly to establish a response
organization. United Methodist Committee on Relief representatives are
in the state helping set up a phone bank and arrange shipments of
supplies and materials.
UMCOR also helped secure travel trailers and manufactured homes as temporary residences for pastors in the affected areas.
the same way that any pastor has a responsibility of membership care in
heart, mind, body and soul, no less do we as a conference now look to
what all is needed," Moore said. "We need to address the mental stress,
the agony of seeing their people suffer; the perhaps dark night of the
soul that such an event can cause in seeking to know the presence of God
and experience the presence of God."
acknowledging the efforts of those immediately after the storm, Pruett
pointed out that recovery will take years and volunteers will be needed
collecting materials and supplies, we need to be looking long term," he
said. "We’re looking at tools and materials that will be needed for
building such as ladders, hand tools, pressure washers, etc."
needs are for flood buckets, containing items needed to begin cleaning a
house that has been flooded, and health kits. Information can be found
on the UMCOR Web site, http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/print/kits/. Other information on packing and shipping can be found at that site or by calling the Sager Brown Depot at (800) 814-8765.
Churches, groups and individuals are asked to contact the conference office before making deliveries or sending work teams.
Donations to support the United Methodist hurricane response 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
offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY
*Woodrick is editor of the Mississippi Advocate, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Mississippi Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.