United Methodist churches among those affected by California fires

October 26, 2007

Oct. 24, 2007, UMNS


By Kathy L. Gilbert


United Methodist families are among those who have lost homes in the raging wildfires that have consumed large portions of Southern California since Oct. 21.


Two families in the Fallbrook United Methodist Church congregation and three families from Hope United Methodist Church in Rancho Bernardo have lost their homes, according to early reports from the United Methodist San Diego district.


“The good news is that we have heard from all of our pastors and none of them have lost their parsonages,” said the Rev. Myron D. Wingfield, superintendent of the San Diego district. “All our church structures and camps are secure.”


Wingfield said they will continue to monitor Julian and Camp Cedar Glen because they are still in possible danger from the fires.


Pastors and congregations of at least five United Methodist churches are among the more than 500,000 who have been evacuated and two or three families have been waiting out the disaster in Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers, Wingfield said.


“I spent the morning at Qualcomm Stadium with Rev. Dick George and Rev. Donna Ford of Hope United Methodist Church, Rancho Bernardo,” he said. Wingfield said the United Methodist families in the stadium have heard their homes are safe and they have turned their attention to helping other evacuees.


The hot Santa Ana winds that have fueled the fires were beginning to ease by Oct. 23. The fires have destroyed hundreds of acres and homes.


“We have heard comparisons between the fires and Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “But that is so unfair. San Diego has the advantage of nice sunny weather and the fire has not obliterated the systems for communication.” The response has been quick and easy, he said.


United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Los Angeles area, called upon “the power of our connectional system” to help.


“As fires rage across Southern California, I hear the psalmist proclaiming, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble,’” she said. “God is indeed our refuge, but the work of compassion is ours to do: now is the time to step up and ‘Be the Church!’”


Swenson said the United Methodist Committee on Relief sent an emergency grant of $10,000 to the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference for use in the relief/recovery process.


“Your local congregations can participate and make a real difference,” she said. “First, I ask that everyone be in prayer: Pray for the firefighters, pray for those who lost homes and businesses, pray for the evacuees, pray for the animals that have been displaced, pray for those whose loved ones are in harm’s way, and pray for the leaders who are working on fighting the fires and recovery efforts.”


Secondly, she said the best tool of direct relief is money. There are two ways to designate gifts:


Gifts designated for the “Bishop’s California Fire Appeal” will be used directly and immediately at the district and local level. Make checks payable to the local church and put “Bishop’s California Fire Appeal” in the subject line. 


Gifts given to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will go directly to UMCOR and be combined with gifts from across the country for their in-depth and long-term response in the months ahead. Make checks payable to the local church with “Advance Special #901670’ (Domestic Disaster Response California Wildfires) in the subject line.


Churches are to send corresponding total dollars and descriptions for each of these as appropriate on the monthly remittance form, line 23 for Bishop's Appeal and line 28 for UMCOR. 


“In addition to an emergency grant to support the conference in its initial efforts, disaster response consultants are at the ready to provide the conference with their presence and guidance as needed,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, head of UMCOR’s domestic disaster response.


“As always UMCOR offers its prayers and support to those in need,” said Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s chief executive. “We ask for your generous donations to the domestic disaster response advance as recent emergencies have depleted the funds we use to provide relief and support in disasters such as these.”


Wingfield also said the feeling of the United Methodist connection has been a blessing.


“We have the sense that our United Methodist family around the country is keeping us in God's grace. That's a huge comfort at a time like this.”