"We are bound together, we are brothers and sisters in Christ"Disaster Recovery Missions and Outreach
About 47 minutes into his sermon on the Sunday after Hurricane Ian devasted Southwest Florida, Rev. Adam Hamilton challenged his congregation to extend hesed to Floridians trying to cope with the storm's aftermath.
He is the Senior Pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. With 25,000 members, it is the largest United Methodist church in the United States. And after seeing the scope of a disaster nearly 1,400 miles and half a continent away, Rev. Hamilton and his congregation put the "united" in United Methodists.
Hesed, he explained, is one of the Hebrew words for love or kindness to their neighbors. He used the words of Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, a Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis Emerita at Princeton Theological Seminary, to amplify the meaning.
|First responders rescue a woman from the ravages of Hurricane Ian (UM News photo)|
"It's where one person is in significant need of help from the other, help that typically may go beyond the usual expectations of such a relationship, and help that is often essential to the basic well-being, or even the survival, of the needy person," he said.
And then he challenged his congregation to do just that.
"We are bound together, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and so we're asking the question, what can we do for our brothers and sisters who are there? How can we help?" he said.
"I'm just wondering, perhaps for some of you, it will be signing up for a disaster response team that will go to Florida and help muck out homes and things like that. For some of us, and I hope for many of us, we can do something to provide aid for them financially."
The "we" in that challenge meant everyone who heard his voice.
"If you're a kid, maybe it's a dollar or five dollars you're going to send so some other kid in Florida is going to have water to drink or toothpaste or whatever they're going to need. It might be a jammie or something," he said.
"For many of us, it's going to be ten, or twenty, or fifty, or a hundred dollars. For a few of you, it's five hundred or a thousand or more dollars. But we can do something. We can all do something today to say we want to extend hesed, or kindness, or covenant love, or loyalty, or steadfast love, or compassion to people who are in need right now for your brothers and sisters in Christ who are in Florida."
On that day, the congregation collected about $200,000 to send to the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. That was on top of two rapid-response gifts totaling $120,000 from the church's mission fund after Hamilton reached out to Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter and asked a simple question: How can we help?
The Florida Conference has distributed donations to some of the approximately 150 churches damaged by Ian's ferocious winds and flooding. And more help is on the way.
"There are many ways I've sought to describe what this means to United Methodist followers of Jesus in Florida. It is a game changer, it is historic, it is a balm in Gilead. It is a visible sign of the image of God, whose nature it is to give, in a people living out holiness," Bishop Carter said in response and deeply felt thanks to Rev. Hamilton.
"It is transformational leadership. It is the connection. It is resurrection in the midst of death. My words still don't adequately capture what this means to a weary and overwhelmed people. And I'm not being sentimental in saying it is an emotional experience to the core. The gift itself communicates everything."
Helping brothers and sisters in need
There are 75 churches and missions across 11 counties in the South West District, and nine of those counties were declared as federal disaster areas. More than 50% of the churches in this district experienced some level of damage because of Hurricane Ian.
|The damage throughout Southwest Florida was catastrophic|
Recovery will require a years-long sustained effort and millions of dollars.
"With Hurricane Irma, we received over $11 million in grants, and we anticipate Hurricane Ian could exceed that amount. The gift from The Church of The Resurrection will allow us to have access to funds to assist with the transition from response to recovery," Florida Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Trish Warren said
"We could use that money to purchase groceries for families in need, replace school supplies for students who lost everything in the hurricane, or assist us in purchasing supplies to mitigate further damage to the residents' homes."
However, the gift from Rev. Hamilton and his congregation was more than just a check aimed at helping with the immediate needs of those affected.
It was a visible sign that their fellow United Methodists were with them as people tried to absorb the scope of the disaster.
"I think the first impact of these gifts in the South West District was a morale boost. In the initial aftermath, it was so uplifting to feel seen and to know that we were not alone; that beyond our conference, the Church of the Resurrection, through our United Methodist Church connection, was standing with us and pledging their support," South West District Superintendent Rev. Debbie Allen said.
"In addition, the gifts have very tangibly helped position churches that were damaged to restart some of their community ministries like preschools, afterschool programs, partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club, food pantries, other feeding ministries, and more. And the gifts are also being utilized by churches to help bless individuals in their communities with needed relief supplies and support emergency response teams for work in some of the most hard-hit areas."
Those churches include, but aren't limited to:
• Gulf Cove UMC, Port Charlotte – This is one of the most heavily damaged church in the district. Additionally, they are the host site for the local Boys and Girls Club which cannot operate any of its programs and feeding ministry.
• Faith UMC, Fort Myers – This church has damage to its administration building. Their community experienced a tornado in January of this year, and now many of the community lost their homes to flooding.
• Tice UMC, Fort Myers They have a food pantry ministry that fills their Fellowship Hall. Every one of Tice's buildings has roof damage, including the parsonage.
• Two island churches where the whole communities have been displaced after the storm: Beach UMC on Fort Myers Beach and Pine Island UMC. The two pastors of these churches are both young female clergy. Beach UMC still cannot access its parsonages or church buildings at this time.
• Englewood UMC, Englewood – The roof of the education building was badly damaged, and at this time, their large preschool ministry is unable to operate until repairs are made.
Pastors left to cope with badly damaged churches and, in some cases, flooded homes wanted to send their deep appreciation to Rev. Hamilton and his congregation.
"I am deeply grateful for the multifaceted ways the conference has come around our church and district to directly serve the needs of our communities," Associate Pastor Sarah R. Wise of Grace UMC in Venice said.
|The damage was overwhelming, but the United Methodist Church responded.|
"I am astounded at the leadership, compassion, and organization so aptly on display since the hurricane. Our connection makes us stronger, and I am honored to be a part of it."
Rev. Dennis R. Lewis, Jr., the Lead Pastor at Faith UMC in Fort Myers, called it an "incredible blessing."
"I truly don't know what to say other than, Praise God," he said. "I felt cared for and loved, which is due once more to the connection we share in the UMC."
Rev. Arlene Jackson, Grace UMC Cape Coral, said the gift could help her navigate "this challenging time." She promised to let the Church of the Resurrection congregation know how she used the money.
"My goodness, that is so kind. Thank you, gift gladly accepted, and I am humbled," she said. "(The COR's) thoughtfulness in applying this gift to my situation makes me feel supported."
Putting United Methodist faith into action
With damages in the billions of dollars, the Church of the Resurrection's gift can't address every need. However, that's not the point.
It is, as Rev. Hamilton said, about heset. It's about embracing the needs of others and letting them know they aren't alone.
"You all remain in my personal prayers. My brother and sister-in-law live in Venice, and many in their community were severely damaged. Yet, we thank God no one was injured, Lead Director of Mission Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection Carol Cartmill said.
"We are ready to stand with you throughout the recovery and healing process. Our funds will be a drop in the bucket compared with all of the needs - but I'm guessing we'll have $100,000 or more to give. I'm reaching out to you thinking that you best know how we could have a positive impact.
"No strings attached with the support - we want to bless and support United Methodists there, but I began thinking if our support could somehow express the meaning of the connection?"
No strings attached.
Just love, kindness, and concern from 1,400 miles away about the well-being and needs of brothers and sisters in Christ.
And for that heset in action, The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church has one thing to say to the people of the Church of the Resurrection.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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