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Stars come out for church’s hurricane relief benefit
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A UMNS photo by Rachel Rogers-Berry

The Rev. Patricia Farris is flanked by (from left) Dana Collins, Jackson Browne and Dave Koz.

Oct. 5, 2005

By United Methodist News Service

Some of pop music’s best-known names helped a United Methodist congregation raise nearly $35,000 for the denomination’s hurricane response.

Jackson Browne, k.d. lang, Dave Koz and Judith Owen were among the performers at “Songs of Strength,” a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, held Sept. 25 at First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica, Calif. The concert also featured Kyle Eastwood, Keaton Simons and the Gwen Wyatt Chorale.

Nearly 1,000 people packed the church’s sanctuary to hear the concert.

The funds will support the churchwide response to the devastation caused by hurricanes in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has received $11 million in contributions for hurricane relief as of Oct. 3, and 100 percent of the money is going directly to the recovery work.

“Songs of Strength” was organized by church member Dana Collins, a music producer with Direct Management, and Jim Smith, the church’s director of music.

“This church has a strong tradition of community-wide concerts and music,” said the Rev. Patricia Farris, senior minister, “and we thought a benefit concert would build on that and allow us to use the best of our resources to meet this great need. What we couldn’t have foreseen was how quickly and generously the artists and the whole community would respond.

“We were all especially touched at the reaction of all the artists, their bands and tech crews, so many of whom thanked us for pulling the benefit together,” she said. “As Jackson Browne asked: ‘Why don’t more churches do this?’”

In a tribute to the musical culture of the Gulf Coast, the artists offered their own “songs of strength” to the audience, which included three families evacuated from New Orleans.

“k.d. lang’s opening remarks reflected the spirit of the event,” Farris said. Thanking the congregation and church staff for hosting the concert, lang said: “I am a Buddhist, and as Buddhists and Christians, we know that compassion is what this is all about — our love and compassion for one another.”

A Web site, songsofstrength.org and songsofstrength.com, was created before the concert, enabling people to see new artists as they were added to the play list, buy tickets and make contributions. Since everything related to the show was donated — including printing, food, tech support and the artists’ performances — 100 percent of the proceeds went to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

From ticket sales and donations made at the time of ticket purchase, close to $35,000 was raised through the event, with additional donations made directly to UMCOR through the site. The church had a suggested minimum donation of $25 per ticket.

The church is following up with opportunities for worship, prayer, discussion and work teams to the Gulf Coast. Commemorative posters signed by the artists are being auctioned on eBay, with the proceeds going to UMCOR.

Building on a theme of the denomination’s advertising ministry, the church placed two large “Be the hope” banners in the front of the sanctuary and over the door.

“It’s up to us now to be the hope for all those whose lives have been turned inside out by the hurricanes,” Farris told the concertgoers. “For renewed cities. For a compassionate nation. Be the hope. Together, let’s be the hope.”

The $11 million given to UMCOR includes donations covering both Hurricane Katrina, which struck Aug. 29, and Hurricane Rita, which came ashore Sept. 24. Of the total, $2.7 million has come through Internet and telephone contributions, and the remaining $8.3 million has come by check, according to Roland Fernandes, treasurer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, parent agency of UMCOR.

“United Methodist generosity to those in crisis is amazing, but it is not surprising,” Fernandes said. “We have a firm belief in this church that we serve Jesus Christ when we serve those in need.”

Contributors may designate their gifts for areas affected by Hurricane Katrina or by Hurricane Rita, or to those places most in need. Donations can also be earmarked for particular states.

UMCOR is providing two giving numbers through The Advance for Christ and His Church for hurricane relief. Checks should be made out to UMCOR and designated for “UMCOR Advance #982523 Hurricane Katrina” or “UMCOR Advance #901323 Hurricane Rita.” Both numbers or one number and the word “both” can be given for general assistance. Tax-deductible checks may be placed in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Credit-card gifts can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or going online to www.methodistrelief.org.

Information for this report was provided by the Rev. Patricia Farris, First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, Calif., and Elliott Wright, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Songs of Strength