“The North Alabama Conference is a model of how to respond to a natural disaster and how to keep responding over the long haul.” That’s what a fellow bishop said to me the other day.
I agree. I couldn’t be more proud of our sustained, active response to the spring storms. We have been hosts to hundreds of UM work teams every week since the storms. We have purchased and equipped staging areas and housing for these volunteers, and we continue to handle hundreds of cases. I asked Nancy Cole, who has been responsible for designing an excellent system of response.
As Coordinator of Disaster Recovery for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, I could write any number of stories of survival and heroism during the April 27 tornado outbreak in Alabama. It has been an amazing time of strength and courage on the part of the people of Alabama. As a United Methodist Clergy who has a unique perspective on this tragedy, it has been the power of our United Methodist Connectional system that has been so impressive to me.
The first Sunday after the storm, Bishop Willimon asked to preach in a church whose pastor was impacted by the storm. Forest Lake United Methodist in Tuscaloosa had 37 members who had lost their homes and/ or businesses. The pastor was in the hospital very ill as a direct result of the storm. Bishop Willimon preached and I served as liturgist this first Sunday after the storm. Our presence was one of the first examples of our Connectional system at work. Also present in that service was Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's Assistant General Secretary for disaster response in the United States. He addressed the congregation about the various ways UMCOR would be in partnership with us throughout our response and recovery phases. Our District Superintendent was also present that day. The Bishop and District Superintendents were available to all of our churches who had been impacted by the storm and are still very supportive of the recovery efforts.
Further power of our Connectional System became evident as UMCOR trained Early Response Teams began to pour in our state from all over our country. Early on in the disaster, I served as the Southwest District Coordinator of Disaster Response. This District includes Tuscaloosa. We had over seventy UMCOR trained teams from all over the country come to Tuscaloosa during that time. We had many other teams throughout our state as well. I could never say enough about the professionalism, the expertise displayed, and the genuine heart for ministry that was exhibited by the teams of Methodist people who wanted to be the hands and feet of Christ to us.
I have been so proud of the way our Conference has responded to the tragedy, beginning with our Bishop, his Cabinet, and Conference staff. Early on, a Disaster Response Center was set up at our Conference Center with volunteers pouring in from throughout the area to answer the 1-800 phone lines and direct incoming teams to areas that needed help.
Now, with the help of recovery teams throughout the Methodist Connectional System which include UMVIM trained teams, we have organized for the long haul. We could not have come this far in our recovery without the help of the UMCOR staff and consultants. Every one of them has helped us in some way. I am so grateful for our United Methodist Connectional System and how it has been the power that has fueled the Methodist response to recovery in Alabama.
*Rev. Nancy Cole is serving as Conference Disaster Recovery Coordinator and Natural Church Development Coordinator.
P.S. Rev. Clay Farrington and Nacole Hillman are leading a remarkable revitalization of our Conference Youth Ministry. Are the youth at your church participating in some of the great upcoming events? Click here to learn how your youth can be engaged. - WHW