No doubt you have seen video footage of the destruction the recent tornadoes have visited upon the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference as well as the Kentucky and Arkansas Conferences and beyond. This was a multi-state event with tornadoes touching down in six states. For our part, we have major damage in western Kentucky, and in west and middle Tennessee. We have had 30 tornadoes touch down in our area in 2021. This does not include the flooding event that hit Waverly and the surrounding area early this year.
We must come to grips with the fact that it is not a matter of if, but when, the next storm will hit. We must be prepared, and we must think about how to respond quickly. As soon as a storm hits, our phones start lighting up with questions of how we can help.
Tornadoes, unlike hurricanes, are random. In a hurricane, you have days to prepare and the option to think about evacuation. A tornado comes quickly, and one has a matter of minutes to decide where to seek cover. Evacuation is often not an option. One house is leveled, and the house next door is spared. One community is leveled and the next is not touched.
Across the Nashville Episcopal Area, we have numerous places that were damaged by the storms of Friday night and early Saturday morning. While Mayfield, Kentucky is getting the media attention (I’ve never seen so many camera crews in one place in my entire life as when I was there on Sunday) many of our communities have been overlooked. These include Cayce, Clear Springs, and Benton in Kentucky and Dresden, Samburg, and Kingston Springs in Tennessee. And each day, we hear about more.
If we are not careful, in a few weeks, another news story will capture the hearts and minds of America and our needs will be forgotten for the next storm. Even now, Waverly, Tennessee, has only begun to make sense of the flooding that occurred earlier this year, and now attention will be drawn to other places.
The truth is, The United Methodist Church is committed to long-term recovery through our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). We are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave in any disaster that visits our communities. Every donated dollar given to disaster response goes directly toward the survivors, and no dollars are expended to fund the organization. To be clear, UMCOR is us. It is the good people of The United Methodist Church responding to the needs that arise in the aftermath of any disaster. UMCOR leverages its relationships with other agencies who have the skills we do not have and together we forge a future. This is what we have done. This is what we are doing now.
I am proud of the way in which our pastors are leading in the midst of this challenging season. I am proud of the Methodists who are showing up with resources and skills to begin the recovery process.
To be clear there are some simple things to remember.
#1. The first phase of any disaster is search and rescue. This is a time when those credentialed and skilled are tasked with the awesome responsibility to discover where people are and what lives have been lost.
#2. The second phase is clean-up and debris removal. This phase lasts from one week to several weeks depending on the damage done. (Individuals needing property clean-up assistance can call a Crisis Cleanup Helpline at 800-451-1954.)
#3. The third phase is long-term recovery which can often take 2 or more years to complete.
On this blog are resources for you to access for responding.
First of all, pray. Pray for the survivors, pray for all the communities affected. Pray for pastors who are standing in the gap, especially those whose congregants’ homes and businesses were destroyed. Pray for the servant ministers who come to our aid. Pray for our future in Christ.
Second, give. Give your contributions to the long-term recovery efforts. Here is the online giving link and the mailing addresses for you to send checks directly to this effort (please note Disaster Response in the memo line):
Checks made out to the Tennessee Conference – PO Box 440132, Nashville, TN 37244
Checks made out to the Memphis Conference – PO Box 10667, Jackson, TN 38308
Third, plan. Plan how your congregation can engage in the long-term recovery effort. Is it to send a work team? Is it to provide support for other teams? Please let us know by completing the Volunteer Form when is posted on our disaster response webpage. Trained Emergency Response Teams will be the first to respond. But, in a few weeks, it will be safe for other groups to help, and we will contact you.
Fourth, prepare your church with a disaster response plan. Should a disaster hit your community, how will you contact your membership? If a storm were to emerge in the midst of worship, where would you direct people? We have learned through this storm that had persons been in a fellowship hall underneath the sanctuary, there would have been a great loss of life. Think carefully about this.
Fifth, how can you offer spiritual and emotional care to persons displaced by this storm?
It is my observation that the people called Methodists do not shy away from challenges but rather they step into them. I look forward to seeing how God will empower our people to offer Christ to a hurting world as we engage in the long-term recovery from the most recent storm.
Your prayers and support are appreciated.
This afternoon two elementary schools were damaged by tornados that swept through Oklahoma today. Please be in prayer for those in harms way.
As of this post, 10 persons have been found dead as rescue workers continue to search for children between the ages of 5 and 8.
If you wish to respond, first pray, then consider a gift to UMCOR.
In due time, disaster response teams will be needed. As we learn through UMCOR the needs and ways to respond, we will share that information with you.
Bishop Bill McAlilly