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Conference celebrates connection at work through storm recovery

Conference celebrates connection at work through storm recovery

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference celebrates connection at work through storm recovery

June 12, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0311}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham**

LAKELAND — The most talked about subject across the Florida Conference last summer was the unlikely event of four hurricanes hitting the state and the experience of living through them.

Along with transformation, changes in structure and clusters, the storms were still a key topic of discussion and celebration at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event June 2-5 at the Lakeland Center here.

LAKELAND — Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) case manager supervisors Geralynn Coss, Pam Cahoon and Cristina Stube (left to right) are recognized with other storm recovery workers during the SRC presentation June 2 at this year's annual conference event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0188.

At the opening session of the four-day gathering the work of the entire conference in helping people recover from the storms was celebrated during a report from the conference's Storm Recovery Center (SRC).

After singing the verses, "When the storms of life are raging, stand by me" and "Lean on me," Connectional Ministries Director Anne Burkholder said Florida United Methodists had been "standing by and leaning on each other in the last year in ways we never expected."

Marilyn Swanson and other staff in Burkholder's office, as well as SRC case managers and countless volunteers, have had the task of coordinating the response and recovery effort across the state.

Burkholder asked people who had been involved in any aspect of the storm to stand - from putting together flood buckets and health kits to joining a work team to help neighbors clean up after the storms, having damage to their homes and churches, or giving money to the recovery effort. Most of the 2,000 lay and clergy delegates were on their feet.

"My friends, this is all of us contributing through our connection," Burkholder said.

With forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting this season will have 12 to15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes and three to five possibly becoming major hurricanes, Burkholder suggested delegates and all Florida United Methodists should both consider disasters the norm and embrace disaster response. 

Tom Hazelwood was one of several people who spoke during the report. Hazelwood is director of disaster response in the United States for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  He told delegates UMCOR "is ready and will be here this year and next year" to help the conference deal with its response when storms hit the state.

Hazelwood arrived in Florida two days after Hurricane Charley hit and remained in the state for about two months to help coordinate efforts. He said the UMCOR board of directors decided at its recent spring meeting to earmark $1.9 million of the money raised through its 2004 Hurricanes fund for the Florida Conference.

LAKELAND — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker (left) receives a t-shirt from the Rev. Jim Kuse, chairman of the Episcopacy Committee, during the opening session of the annual conference event that is imprinted with the state of Florida and hurricane symbols, reminding him he's bishop of a "stormy" conference. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0189.

He said many families were in a unique state of "lostness" when he arrived in Florida and ministry was taking place "on street corners — ministry of the Florida Annual Conference and The United Methodist Church."

A number of other people working with storm recovery also shared their experiences, including the Rev. David Harris, who expressed his thanks on behalf of his church and community for the United Methodist connection and work delegates have done in the recovery process.

Harris is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia, which has served as the hub of the conference's relief efforts to that area. Arcadia is located in the former Sarasota District and will become part of the new South West District July 1. It’s about 20 to 30 miles from the Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte areas, where Hurricane Charley made landfall. His church was on both the giving and receiving end of recovery efforts. In the immediate phase after the storms hit, Trinity provided meals and a variety of supplies to neighbors, including flood buckets, 3,000 of which arrived at the church at one time. Harris said he had no idea he would need all of them, and three days later he was looking for more.

He said disaster response is "an incredible opportunity" for ministry and added, "There is no greater ministry than reaching out to your community and sharing the love of Jesus Christ in tangible ways."

He said people are visiting the church and participating in activities there because of their experience with the church during the hurricane response. They are beginning to consider it a safe place of healing and hope. Harris said members are now more aware the church isn't just a place to worship, but an important part of the community. He urged delegates to get involved whenever there's an opportunity.

Members of the Rev. David McEntire's church, United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches, have embraced many opportunities to be ministry after the storms. The church served as a distribution center, providing more than 25,000 pounds of supplies. Much of what they had went to area residents, but some items were also sent to Haiti and the Bahamas to help people affected by the storms there. The church was also one of the only air-conditioned places people could go to escape the heat, church members provided groceries and three meals a day to neighbors, and movies were shown at the church to help keep kids occupied until some semblance of normalcy returned at their homes.

McEntire said one woman from the neighborhood told him, "I never knew the church still cared." He told her the church never stopped caring — it just forgot to tell people it did. He told delegates he and his congregation were proud to represent "so many of us" through the recovery effort.

As much as the church provided, McEntire says he's grateful for what was given to them. The church had its own damage to deal with — an estimated half a million dollars' worth. He said he received cards from the first-graders of one church after Hurricane Jeanne hit and caused so much damage to the church. One said, "You have lost all your stuff, but you still have your hope."

McEntire stressed to delegates that his church was able to help people in its community through the generosity of United Methodists, "meaning you," he said. When his church helped people, it was as if every United Methodist was out there making a difference.

"Thank you so much for casting your bread upon the waters," he said.

Swanson closed the report by saying the SRC is already getting ready for this year's season. She encouraged the delegates to go back to their churches and get ready, too.


This article relates to 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.