Interruptions or Opportunities

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 Hurricane Fay has come and pretty much gone, though she may be rebounding westward from the Atlantic back into Florida this evening.

As we hunkered down yesterday, Sue and I kept reflecting about our experience with the infamous hurricane season of 2004.  We were living at the time in Orlando.  I was raised in Maitland, just north of Orlando and only remember one major storm as a child: Donna in 1960.  Charley, Ivan and Jeanne all acted like Orlando had a great big X on its back in 2004!  While I certainly don’t wish anyone to suffer hurricane damage, I was rather glad that Fay proved unmemorable for us now living in Lakeland.

The odd thing that I observed during 2004 was that congregations seemed to fall in one of two categories: those that saw the hurricanes as an interruption to their ministry as usual and those who saw the hurricanes as an opportunity for ministry to others.  I was surprised by the amazingly salty service that some of the congregations showed to people in their community following the hurricanes.  It was also exciting to see some congregations, who early in the season treated Charley like a rude interruption, begin to respond to Ivan and Jeanne as opportunities to demonstrate Christ’s love in action to their neighbors.

A couple of months ago, Mike Oliver invited me to visit with the Atlantic Central pastors during their district preachers’ meeting.  Early in the gathering, Rev. Shirley Groom of Fellowship UMC in Palm Bay shared about their experience with forest fires near their facility.  As firemen gathered, it became obvious that they needed food and water and a place to rest.  Shirley shared how their congregation responded.  Volunteers from their congregation, supported by several other area United Methodist congregations, kicked into gear with amazing speed and efficiency.  Because of our denomination’s connectionalism, Fellowship was able to become a host site for offering care not only to the fire fighters, but to their community.   Community leaders were amazed and later invited Shirley to be part of the community’s disaster planning team.  What a great story!

Shirley and the Fellowship congregation of Palm Bay saw the firestorm in their area not just as an interruption, but as an opportunity to share Christ's love in action with their neighbors. 

The truth is that many of the 60% of Floridians who do not go to church will never believe that God loves them until they experience a disciple of Jesus Christ put God’s love in action for them.  So, I pray Fay is the last storm of the 2008 hurricane season.  But when future hurricanes do hit, I pray that that we might see them as opportunities for salty service. 

Jeff Stiggins



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