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Training helps churches ‘be prepared’

Training helps churches ‘be prepared’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Training helps churches ‘be prepared’

March 20, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0817}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

With this year’s Atlantic hurricane season just around the corner, Florida Conference United Methodists are preparing to help their neighbors weather whatever storms might hit the state.

Hurricane experts are predicting above-average activity, with 13 named storms and seven hurricanes. Three of those hurricanes are expected to be Category 3 or higher.

Church members attending the “Community Arise: Basic Disaster Ministry Training” session at First United Methodist Church of Moore Haven last year gather in small groups to work on a simulation exercise in which they walked step-by-step through what their responses would be if a tornado hit their community. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry. Photo #08-0783.

“We know we will have disasters eventually,” said the Rev. Thom Street, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Moore Haven.

Street’s church was one of two locations last year that offered a pilot training program called “Community Arise: Basic Disaster Ministry Training” through the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry to help churches prepare for disasters. And disasters don’t just mean hurricanes. Churches are often called upon to help in the aftermath of tornadoes, flooding and man-made crises.

“The better prepared we are as a church, the more quickly we’ll be able to reach out to those who are hurting,” Street said.

Churches wanting to be that lifeline for their neighbors will soon have another opportunity to learn all they need to know.

“We have some trainings coming up over the next couple of months in various locations in the conference that are geared toward providing a good overview of disaster for churches,” said Pam Garrison, manager of the conference’s disaster recovery ministry and staff liaison to the Florida Conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

Garrison says last year’s training events were well received by participants from both United Methodist churches and other denominations.

Annette Reyes-Burnsed attended the first pilot training, held in Lake City. As a member of a church staff — Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport — she said it was great training for office workers, church staff people and volunteers who would be going into their communities to perform more physical work, like clearing branches and other debris.

Beth Long, a member of Vamo United Methodist Church in Sarasota, drove three hours to attend the second training in Moore Haven. She says she learned where to go to get funds and supplies to help people in distress. The training also offered advice on setting up a phone tree to contact and check on church members who may have been affected.

The one-day training is based in part on “Community Arise: A Disaster Ministry Curriculum,” which was developed by Church World Services in collaboration with other faith-based organizations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Lutheran Disaster Services, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Catholic Charities and other groups providing disaster response.

The training is just one way the conference’s disaster recovery ministry is working to fulfill its mission to effectively manage resources — information, supplies, volunteers and financial assistance — available to churches when disasters occur. Staff and volunteers work closely with district and church disaster coordinators and outside relief agencies to effectively coordinate those resources and make sure lines of communication are open and clear.

Participants attending the “Community Arise: Basic Disaster Ministry Training” session in Moore Haven last year take time to compare notes. The training was designed to give church members a practical foundation for responding to disasters in their community and working cooperatively with other groups responding to crises. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry. Photo #08-0784.

UMCOR, in its role as the global humanitarian aid organization of The United Methodist Church, is a partner in those efforts, providing assistance in planning, preparation and disaster response. UMCOR also provides grants that supplement donations from churches and individuals, funding much of the conference’s disaster response work.

The goal of the upcoming training is to teach church members “how to identify and address unmet needs of all survivors, particularly people who were vulnerable before a disaster, and how to provide a larger vision of life that includes emotional and spiritual care, as well as physical rebuilding to assist in long-term recovery of those in need,” according to the Community Arise training Web site.

It’s designed to give church members a practical foundation for effectively responding to disasters in their community in cooperation with other churches, emergency management officials and the conference’s disaster recovery team. The training is also geared toward helping people understand the importance of communication and collaboration in meeting the needs of disaster survivors and of being the church in the midst of crisis.

Garrison and other disaster recovery staff are quick to note that neither the Florida Conference nor UMCOR are first responders after a storm or disaster.

Trained professionals — firefighters, police, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and county, state and federal personnel — are responsible for first response. Only after they have secured an area and invited other groups to assist can the conference disaster response team deploy trained volunteers and teams to begin the relief process — cleanup, debris removal, providing information and referral, spiritual care — and the more challenging phase of long-term recovery.

Individuals who would like to attend one of the three “Community Arise: Basic Disaster Ministry Training” sessions being held may register online at

The training sessions will take place:

   • March 29 at Pine Ridge Fellowship United Methodist Church, 935 Howland Blvd., Deltona FL, 32738;

  • May 17 at Cornerstone United Methodist Church, 8200 Immokalee Rd., Naples, FL 34119; and

  • June 7 at Cokesbury United Methodist Church, 1801 NW 65th Ave., Margate, FL 33063.

There is no cost for the training.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.