I wish that all of you could have been with me for the last couple of days. Yes, the devastation in places like Tuscaloosa, Fultondale, Sand Mountain, Cullman, and Phil Campbell is terrible to behold.
And yet….the response of our people in the United Methodist Church is an even greater wonder. I began the weekend bragging that United Methodists were feeding five thousand people a day, but quickly revised the number to ten thousand. In Tuscaloosa our churches like Forrest Lake and Southside were badly damaged – and had staging areas and dining tents set up in their front yards. At Phil Campbell you could hardly see our horribly damaged church for the dozens of workers, tents, and disaster response trailers the Northwest District had assembled out front. We have shown that we can respond quickly and effectively to meet the immediate needs of the victims and the volunteers. Our churches are housing many hundreds of utilities workers and those who have lost their homes.
Tom Hazelwood of UMCOR spent the weekend with us, helping us to organize for the longer term. The North Alabama Conference is leading this recovery for the long run. The Reverend Matt Lacey will continue to train and to equip our responders. Linda Holland, our new Connectional Ministries Director, is mobilizing our Connectional Ministries to give all their focus over the next couple of months to the recovery. The Reverend Tom Duley will coordinate and place all volunteers coming into North Alabama from elsewhere.
Today I’m also appointing the Reverend Bob Alford as the Director of our Disaster Recovery effort. Throughout the Conference I’ve heard that we need an experienced, senior person to serve as the overall coordinator and director of our efforts, one person who knows exactly what we’re up to and where the help is needed. If you need information on our staging areas, places of need, and how your church can plug into our far flung efforts, beginning May 4 we will have a dedicated number to call. The number will be posted on the conference website (www.northalabamaumc.org). Director of Communication Danette Clifton will also continue to keep information constantly updated on our website. If you have questions and need answers, go first to our website, then call the 800 number.
Many of you know that I have long been a critic of some of Methodism’s overly articulated organizational structure. We’ve got so many rules, so many layers of bureaucracy. This past week, I’ve rediscovered the beauty of our name – Methodists. We have a methodical approach to discipleship. We believe if there’s good worth doing in Jesus’ name, it’s worth rightly organizing ourselves to do it well. I give thanks that the North Alabama UMC didn’t wait until a disaster struck to get ready for a disaster and that, with our connection in good working order, we were ready to respond when the time came for us to step up and testify to our faith through our deeds of mercy and love.