Special Hurricane Katrina offering on August 26

August 22, 2007

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

HELP WANTED: People with sturdy spirits, loving hands and bountiful prayers to rebuild lives, homes and churches on the Gulf Coast. Jobs available for the next 20 years. Rewards reaped in heaven.

As the second anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita approaches, the need continues for prayers, volunteers, partners and donations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The recovery stage has evolved into the rebuilding stage in most areas, though some places in New Orleans have been untouched since Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005.

United Methodist churches will collect a special offering August 26 for the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal. Donations go directly to the rebuilding of United Methodist churches, parsonages and other facilities as well as to salaries for support staff; training for lay leadership; and efforts to grow congregations where membership has declined.

“We have been able to reopen churches that were totally devastated – and that was made possible only because of the gifts of the people of the church,” said Bishop William Hutchinson, Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference. “At the same time, major parts of the city of New Orleans and surrounding area have not been touched and still need basic services.”

Day of prayer, reflection in Mississippi

United Methodists in Mississippi will hold times of prayer and reflection August 29.

“What more appropriate expression of our life together than a time set apart to pray with thanksgiving for all that we have experienced since August 29, 2005?” said Rev. Bill McAlilly, district superintendent. “As United Methodist Christians deeply engaged in the work of recovery alongside fellow Christians, our prayer this day is to be a sign of hope and promise.”

The services will be brief, offering a time of song, prayer, and reflection as a community. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, leader for the church's Mississippi Annual Conference, will be on the coast to offer words of encouragement at each gathering.

“Wherever you are August 29,” Ward said, “take time to remember and to pray for all who evacuated and are yet to return home to the Coast, for those who serve in the ministries of long-term recovery, for all who persevere in the communities of south Mississippi.”

A reason to celebrate

A special “New Orleans-style” celebration will be held September 6-7 in New Orleans to say “thank you” to volunteers of the past, present and future – for giving their time, money and prayers.

“At this point in the recovery process, we are deeply involved in casework management. Families continue to need help and we continue to need skilled construction teams who are willing to volunteer in this ministry,” said Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference. “Our prayers are that all those affected by this tragedy will see the love of Christ in our work.”

“As we approach hurricane season on the Gulf Coast, we remember what wind and water can do as we press onward to rebuild homes, churches, schools, communities. Your partnership is essential,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Mississippi Annual Conference.

Extraordinary contributions

Nearly 60,000 individuals have received United Methodist assistance during long-term recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast, according to a new report issued August 22 by United Methodist Committee on Relief.

“We’re at the two-year mark in our five-year plan of long-term recovery work,” said the Rev. Sam W. Dixon, UMCOR interim executive.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, the most active in recorded history, spawned 28 named storms, 15 of which became hurricanes, including Katrina, the costliest ever. After the storms, donors to the United Methodist Committee on Relief “Hurricanes of 2005” appeal responded with record gifts to assist those affected. The total giving, more than $66 million, was the highest ever given to an UMCOR Advance.

UMCOR focuses on a case management approach to long-term recovery, a robust form of recovery considered “best practice” in the field, said Rev. Dixon. Through case management, a family writes their own recovery plan and works with a caring case manager to implement their recovery. Cash assistance is provided for such needs as replacement clothing, medical and school fees, rent, mortgage payments, and home repair materials.

Rebuilds, improvements outpace others

Sixty-three percent of the disbursed funds have gone to the five Annual Conferences along the Gulf Coast where multiple storms struck: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama-West Florida and Florida. With UMCOR assistance, all five have effective organizations in place to identify and work with survivors, recruit and host volunteer teams, and manage rebuilding efforts. Disbursements have been used for initial relief, cash assistance, case management, and rebuilding.

Some 25,000 total and partial rebuilds have been done. The July 20 edition of USA Today, a national publication, said UMCOR home improvement efforts outpaced any other agency working in the Gulf Coast region. United Methodists represented the third largest contingent of volunteer workers in the region, according to the newspaper. Rebuilding continues in the region, and disaster organizations will be actively seeking volunteer teams for years to come.

Twenty percent of the funds have gone to other grass-roots organizations serving vulnerable populations, including GRACE Community Services, Houston; United Methodist institutions on the Gulf Coast; and other social service agencies affiliated with the church. These agencies serve the most vulnerable in the Gulf Coast as well as persons in other states outside the region.

Funds have also been used to establish and develop the system needed to support and sustain long-term recovery, UMCOR’s specialty. These activities include case manager training and support. In addition, volunteer housing has been built to support teams traveling to the region. (Link here for more details of the UMCOR report.)

As the work continues, ministries assisting in the rebuilding efforts need teams with at least one skilled laborer who can hang sheetrock, install roofs and wire homes for electricity, according to Chris Bower, resource coordinator for the Mississippi Annual Conference.

“There is still tons of work to do,” Bower said.

People can make contributions to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal #818-001 through local church offerings or on line.

Go to the Cal-Nevada Conference Home Page at http://www.cnumc.org/ and look for the Hurricane Recovery link on the left side (just above “Today’s Church”). Click on it to bring up the Bishop’s Katrina Church Recovery Appeal page.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Information for this report was provided by Woody Woodrick, editor of the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate, and Elliott Wright, Information Officer for the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.