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Texas United Methodists need help to rebuild after Ike

Jerry Harrington, whose home on the Gulf Coast of Texas was destroyed by
Hurricane Ike, says he doesn't plan to rebuild. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 25, 2008 | HIGH ISLAND, Texas (UMNS)

Jerry Harrington has lived on the Gulf Coast of Texas all of his life, but Hurricane Ike finally convinced him to leave.

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie and the Rev. Donald Waddleton assess storm damage and recovery needs Sept. 24
in Surfside Beach.

"This is the worst I have ever seen, I’m not going to build it back," he said as he walked around the rubble of his home left behind by the Sept. 13 storm. "I’m all right without my house, but I just can’t stand losing all my mementos."

Harrington is one of about 500 residents of this scenic coastal town who have returned to find their communities wrecked and their lives changed forever.

The monster storm damaged more than 100 United Methodist churches and parsonages in the denomination's Texas Annual (regional) Conference. About a million people are without electricity and other utilities, and it may be a month or longer before power is restored.

"Some officials are saying Ike will be the largest natural disaster in Texas history, and most of it occurred within the bounds of the Texas Annual Conference," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who oversees more than 700 United Methodist churches in southeast Texas.

Huie and church leaders have traveled daily to churches and communities affected by the hurricane, offering prayers and comfort and assessing what is needed to rebuild. Representatives of the United Methodist Committee on Relief have also toured the devastation.

The bishop has issued a church-wide call for help, asking that a special offering be collected on Sept. 28 for hurricane recovery work in Texas, Louisiana, Haiti and other parts of the United States. The donations are being managed through The Advance, the denominational giving program for missions and relief.

In a Sept. 22 letter to her colleagues on the Council of Bishops, Huie said that while the cost of rebuilding from 2005's Hurricane Rita was $5 million, "Ike's challenge will far exceed Rita. … I am asking for your help."

Sifting through the rubble

Church leaders in Texas have provided pastoral support as they assess damages to both church property and the communities served by those congregations.

Visiting the Bolivar Peninsula on Sept. 24 was the Rev. Richard A. Burnham, superintendent of the church's Southeast District, east of Houston. Walking through the ruined parsonage of the Rev. Jeff and Sandy Craft in Crystal Beach, the emotional toll wore on him.

The Rev. Richard Burnham walks through the pastor's parsonage at Bay Vue United Methodist Church in Crystal Beach.

"I see something Sandy would want," Burnham said, picking through the ruins. He gathered a few pieces of unbroken china, a waterlogged photo album and a framed pair of baby shoes, wrapping them gently in a collapsed living room curtain.

"I am just so very, very sad for Jeff and Sandy," Burnham said. "Jeff has lost everything … his community and his church."

Next door to the parsonage, Bay Vue United Methodist Church was just as wrecked. Three inches of mud filled the sanctuary and fellowship hall, and Burnham was unsure whether the structure can be saved.

"This was a very community-minded congregation," he said. "They have a history of tithing 10 percent to the community from the tithes they receive."

Bay Vue, Sabine Pass and Seabrook were the hardest hit churches in the conference, according to Huie.

The pastor of the Sabine Pass congregation, which is on the Gulf Coast near Port Arthur, still managed to get a laugh from Burnham, however, when she left a message on his cell phone.

"The back of the sanctuary is blown out, all the pews are gone, the education building has been knocked over. … That’s all the good news I have for right now," the Rev. Kitty Key told Burnham.

Urgent plea

In her letter to the bishops, Huie said the need to help rebuild homes, churches and parsonages is among her greatest concerns. Others include families and churches with little or no flood insurance; families who have run out of money for food, gas and necessities due to evacuation orders; and providing salaries for the next three or four months to pastors whose congregations evacuated and whose communities have dispersed—particularly on the Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston Island and Sabine Pass.

"We have learned a great deal in the last three years (since Hurricane Rita)," she wrote. "For example, we have learned that volunteer hours double every dollar given to recovery. We know that the early response of the UMC invites other groups to engage with us and stay committed to long-term recovery. Whatever you give in time and money is multiplied many times over."

Noting that "news of Ike's impact has already disappeared from the national media," she urged United Methodists to stay informed through reports from the conference and from church news and relief organizations.

To aid in the recovery work, send financial donations to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, "Hurricanes 2008." 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.

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

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

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