Bishop Brown and UMCOR Leader Visit Fire Relief Efforts in Lake County

September 28, 2015

*By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.
Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., resident bishop of the California-Nevada Conference and President of the Council of Bishops, and the Rev. Denise Honeycutt, Deputy General Secretary for the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR), along with several California-Nevada Conference staff, visited with pastors and volunteers of the fire disaster response efforts in Lake County, California.
"My heart aches as I watch wildfires burn across our Conference," said Bishop Brown. "We have dozens of parishoners who have lost homes, while others are still uncertain as to whether or not their homes are still standing…Even in the midst of destruction, hope rises from the ashes," he added.
The delegation started with the efforts at the Lakeport Federated Christian Parish Relief Center, then to the Middletown United Methodist Church and the Office of Emergency Services, and ended at the Clearlake Community United Methodist Church Relief Center.
The Rev. Denise Honeycutt, Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR, says, "Our call is to be where people are…I am reminded of the goodness of who we are as United Methodists, and our United Methodist connectional system."  Honeycutt says, "People have been calling, people have been giving, but it's because of United Methodists in the United States and all around the world who give to UMCOR that we are able to continue to make a difference for the long haul." She added, "UMCOR will be here (California) for the long haul."
The Conference has received two UMCOR grants for the Rocky/Lake County Fire.  The three churches in the affected area have opened the churches to meet immediate needs of their communities and serve the many persons who are still under mandatory evacuation.  Some of the immediate needs have been gas vouchers, clothing, food, tents for shelter, toiletries, and computer and internet access, to name a few.  "One of the things I keep hearing people say is that we are the most organized," says the Rev. Shannon Kimbell-Auth, pastor of Lakeport Federated Christian Parish.
More than 1,000 structures in Middletown, California have been lost to the fire.  Middletown United Methodist Church (UMC), located in the center of town, is still standing, as well as the school and surrounding businesses.  The Rev. Claudia Listman, pastor of Middletown UMC, says, "I know that we are blessed to be here…even those churches that burned down are blessed, I know that they are going to rise from the ashes as this whole community will."
Bishop Brown thanked the volunteers at the Clearlake Community UMC Relief Center, "We appreciate the love you are demonstrating…You are the church. You are being disciples of Jesus Christ doing the kinds of things that are needed in a time like this," said Bishop Brown. 
Butte/Amador County Fire
The Conference has received a grant from UMCOR for the Butte/Amador County Fire. 
"One of the big challenges with the Butte Fire is going to be housing," says the Rev. Thomas Widlund, pastor of Ione UMC.  "There is already a lack of housing in the county, and so this will be a challenge for the 500 plus families that have lost their homes," he said.  "We also know there will be a lot of unmet needs…It seems that our work with gift cards for fuel, food, and household goods, has been meeting these unmet needs."
Widlund, along with several United Methodist pastors and laypeople, spent time last week in Mountain Ranch in Calaveras County.  Widlund says, "The community of Mountain Ranch has rallied together to create a makeshift relief center at the Community Center."  He added, "We were able to spend time their talking, sorting donations, and distributing gift cards to those in need. Many people are camping on their property and the need now is for basic necessities."

A team of 10 people from Sutter Creek UMC and Ione Community UMC traveled to Mountain Ranch to help sort donations, to comfort those hurting, and to distribute gift cards.  "They spent just over half the day working at the relief center.  It was exciting to see the two churches coming together to serve the community." 
How to donate
For churches wishing to donate through the California-Nevada Conference for immediate relief for the fires, and immediate needs of future disasters, make checks payable to "California-Nevada Annual Conference," and write "CN Disaster Response" in the memo line.  Churches can add their donation in with their tithing form and annotate in the area as "other designated giving."  Mail checks to the California-Nevada Conference Center, P.O. Box 980250, West Sacramento, CA 95798-0250. To donate online, click here. This has allowed the Conference to meet immediate needs until UMCOR grants arrive, and to meet needs not covered with those grants. The California-Nevada Conference has benefited tremendously from UMCOR in response to natural disasters within the bounds of the Conference.  To donate to UMCOR, click here.
At this time, volunteers from outside of the California-Nevada Conference are not needed for the Rocky/Valley and Butte/Amador fire efforts.  Efforts are currently in the immediate response stage. For future interest in volunteering when the need arises, click here.
*Hygh is director of communications for the California-Nevada Conference that includes 360 local churches and 78,000 United Methodists in Northern California and Northern Nevada.