Bishop Carcaño's Pastoral Itineration During the Wildfires
Visiting Napa and Novato
October 18, 2017
Brothers and Sisters,
Today was another very meaningful day. United Methodists from our beloved California-Nevada Conference continue to amaze me with their faithfulness. Rev. Linda Caldwell and I traveled to Napa where we met with clergy and lay leaders from our churches in Napa, St. Helena, and Vallejo. We learned new things about the impact of the fires.
Our youngest participant at any of our pastoral itineration visits this week was little Adeline who with her friends had made “Thank You” posters for first responders and then delivered them. Schools are closed at this time in the communities where the fires have hit. Adeline’s grandmother told us that Monterey Bay Aquarium is providing free entry for children in fire affected communities. Children have been greatly affected by the fires and we all agreed that our churches need to be considering ways to continue ministering to them.
One mother in the circle reported that social media had kept her 12-yr-old daughter on top of the news of the fires. One of the problems, however, was that rumors were soon just as prevalent as real news. It made them all anxious so this 12-yr-old and her friends started the “12-yr-old Fire Therapy Group”!
This same young girl told her mother that she was praying to God to stop the fires, but there was nothing she could do. Her very wise mother invited five of her daughter’s friends to their home where they talked about what they were experiencing and, like little Adeline, made thank you notes for firefighters and also delivered them.
A faithful youth ministry director has been reaching out to the young people under his care with a watchful eye. Every generation responds differently. Where we find ourselves in the cycle of life, shapes our response. Some elderly persons have given up in the face of this most recent natural disaster. Some knew they could not physically run to safety. Others could not help their spouse move quickly enough and could not leave them behind. Young people can run, but not always fast enough as we learned yesterday. The young people we heard about today want to be engaged in responding to the needs around them. They have the need to work out their emotions by being active.
Our church in Napa had recently declared itself as a Sanctuary Church. I don’t think they had fire victims in mind when they took this bold step, but their spirit of serving the most vulnerable under all circumstances makes them a wonderfully hospitable community of faith. This church experienced an earthquake not long ago that nearly brought their church building down. They were engaged in the recovery in that natural disaster and are committed now to being leaders in this most recent disaster.
They remember that in the earthquake recovery the truly poorest in the community were forgotten. They stand ready to be even stronger advocates for the poor this time around. They are also recognizing the urgency of being engaged in housing for those who had no adequate housing before the fires and now have even less possibility of housing. Led by their pastor, Rev. Lee Neish, they are aligning their resources with their vision.
Pastor Lee also told us the story of the Global Supertanker Boeing 747-400 plane that has been helping to extinguish the fires. The plane is called, Spirit of John Muir. A great-great grandson of John Muir, an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the U.S., had told Pastor Lee that a few years ago he had been asked for permission to name the Boeing 747-400, Spirit of John Muir. He was informed at that time that the plane would be used to protect the wilderness. As the fires raged last week, this great-great grandson saw the Spirit of John Muir at work extinguishing the fires right there in the Napa area and felt grateful pride.
Rev. Allen Yan-Chamberlin, Pastor of Vallejo Fellowship UMC, shared that when the fires began, her phone started to ring. Her church members were calling with one message. “Pastor, we need to pray,” they each said, call after call. She smiled as she said to us, “We believe in the power of prayer, but does it take a fire to fire-up the church?!” Sometimes crisis leads us to deepen our prayer life. I believe that our prayers have made a difference in a hundred ways in this crisis. If nothing else, I believe prayers have opened our hearts to greater love, sacrificial compassion, and bolder discipleship.
Our pastor of Wayside UMC in Vallejo, Rev. Fel Cao, informed us that his church leaders had been concerned about the poor and undocumented immigrants. They visited shelters and found many in the parking lots staying in their cars out of fear that they might not be received at the shelters because of the lack of documentation or that they might even be detained by ICE. I am sure that these leaders were a great comfort to those excluded from basic care.
Rev. Cao and his family also took in a church family who had to be evacuated. They had called him and asked whether they could stay at the church. Instead he welcomed them into his home and personally prepared a special meal for them. There are so many ways we can pastor our flock and this was a kind and generous way.
From both our Napa and our St. Helena UMCs we learned that many in these communities are suffering from survivor’s guilt. Why they were spared is a troubling question for them. They feel guilty that they are experiencing trauma and depression even though they were not touched by the fires. Others are experiencing a clear sense of priority. Some have lost everything but are clear that nothing material they had, was what was most important in their lives. Pastor Burke Owens, who leads our church in St. Helena has been ministering to those feeling survivor’s guilt and experiencing depression. We encouraged him to consider how others of us might help him in this ministry of care.
From Napa we traveled to Novato to our UMC there. We met with a wonderful group of volunteers who had stepped up immediately to respond. Just a few hours after the fires began in Santa Rosa, they placed evacuation shelter signs on the street side of their church building for all to see, and opened the doors of the church to shelter those being evacuated. Very soon even though no evacuees had come, the manager of the Mexican restaurant down the street came by and offered to provide lunch for the evacuees. Pastor Youngmi Jung and church members who were at the church to serve evacuees, thanked the person who had come offering lunch but had to share with him that they had no evacuees at that time. That restaurant manager told them that evacuees were gathering at the local Target.
Pastor Youngmi and one of the church members drove to the Target with their sign and directed evacuees to Novato UMC. Before long everyone in Novato knew about the shelter at Novato UMC. The Novato Mother’s Club brought food and pastries, as did the Mexican restaurant that had sent their first visitor. A Greek Orthodox Church had also brought a delicious meal. One night, a man obviously tired from work had brought a baby play pen. They did not need a baby play pen, but the man seemed so earnest that they took it any way. Strangers sent water, baby diapers, socks and underwear for all ages. They also received many volunteers including 2 nurses, and a visit from the Red Cross who apologized for not having come by to help them earlier.
A young woman in her early 20s came by one day to volunteer, but they had enough volunteers and told her that they could not work her in. They were taken aback when the young woman began to cry uncontrollably. She so wanted to help. I am praying for this young woman. God knows what heavy burden she was carrying that led her to weep when there was no place for her service. Pray with me for this young woman and for Mother Liz.
Liz is from Napa but was in Los Angeles when the fires began. One of her daughters was at the concert in Las Vegas, Nevada where the deadly shooting occurred recently. The people on each side of her were shot to death. Liz had gone to check on her daughter’s well-being. This daughter is dealing with her trauma. Back here in Northern California Liz has a daughter who is a journalist and who is running toward the fires to report on them. Liz has asked this daughter to daily send her a quick text and tell her that she is alright. As the mother of a daughter, I feel for Liz. Please pray for her with me, and for all mothers and fathers whose children are being affected in one or another by disasters of the kind we are living today.
The first evacuees to come to Novato UMC were an extended family of about 35 people! Others followed them. As the church fellowship hall filled up, one church member described the scene: The elderly sat on the edges with a forlorn look. Younger adults paced the floor. But the children and young people played and ate and made themselves at home. Pastor Youngmi had the great idea of setting up a ping-pong table that became a big hit. Neighbors had brought toys and other things for the children to entertain themselves with. They were all given out to the delight of the children.
Even animals were given shelter. One woman called asking whether pets were being sheltered at the church. She was told they were and she came. What no one expected was that she would come with 10 pets! When the Humane Society heard that the church was sheltering pets, they brought them animal crates and cat and dog food. They will forever remember the fellow who came strolling up with bags of cat and dog food thrown over his shoulders. He had paw tattoos running up one of his arm. A true animal lover!
Our church members at Novato UMC have said good-bye to those they provided shelter for. Some of the children didn’t want to go. They had felt safe at the church. One undocumented immigrant father who had come to the church with his teenage daughter had said to them that he wanted to come back to the church. These church leaders affirmed that they had all become family. They are now distributing the extra supplies to other ministries that serve the poor and the homeless and asking, “What else can we do?”
We ended the day on an hour-long conference call with Cathy Earl of UMCOR who said our church leaders were doing all the right things. She offered the full on-going support of UMCOR. This week UMCOR has authorized an initial $10,000 grant for the work of our churches affected by these recent fires. Further response efforts are being planned by the leaders of our churches on the front line. We will do all we can to assist them with the necessary resources and support they will need to continue serving.
My heart overflows with gratitude to God for all these faithful leaders who aren’t just talking about being the church. THEY ARE BEING THE CHURCH! Thanks be to God!
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
Visit with the Mendocino Circuit
October 17, 2017
I start this pastoral report with an apology. In yesterday’s report, I forgot to acknowledge Rev. Jola Bortner, pastor of the Rohnert Park UMC where we gathered for the meeting with the Sonoma Circuit. She was our host pastor who reminded us in these strange unsettling days that we are in Autumn. The seasons affirm that we are held by God our Creator who gives us the steadiness of seasons. The conditions left behind by a hot summer are now met by autumn colors and soon, by winter rains.
Pastor Jola thoughtfully led us in our devotions and spoke of how she has reached out to her church members. She systematically went down the list of her members bringing to mind the fact that we Methodists know how to organize in such a way that all of us are connected and accounted for. Over our history as Methodists we have organized in cells, bands and societies. Today we organize in small groups, each group having a leader who watches over the members of the small group. As our congregations have faced the recent fires it would have helped if all our congregations had had a system of small groups to watch over one another.
Today, Rev. Linda Caldwell and I traveled to Ukiah and met with leaders from Ukiah, Willits, Clear Lake, Clear Lake Oaks and Potter Valley. We learned about the impact fires can have on some of our most remote communities. Like in other places, the fires came with crippling speed. There was no public warning. Limited access to cell phone and internet services made communications across the area impossible. People died while trying to escape.
One family attempting to drive away was overtaken by the fires. Their 14- year-old son died. Their 16-year-old daughter had her legs so badly burned that she lost them. Roads were soon closed, isolating these communities. Redwood Valley was where the fires extended their most devastating blow this time, destroying a reported 250 homes and businesses in this small community alone.
Local Pastor Rosemary Landry who is serving our Willits congregation reported that she had become aware of undocumented immigrants who had been affected by the fires in Santa Rosa and who out of fear had escaped to the area we were visiting. They had heard that ICE might be showing up at shelters. ICE has said that they will not be visiting shelters unless there is a criminal reason. The experience of The United Methodist Church has been that ICE’s definition of criminal can be something as small as a traffic violation. How difficult it must be for undocumented immigrants to be escaping from the wrath of fires without the assurance that there are safe places for them to land.
As she worried about how the community of Ukiah would respond to the fires, Pastor Judy Shook realized that the voice of faith communities was missing from the conversation. Meeting with local officials she made an appeal to them to not forget the voice of faith communities. Turning to her the local officials said to her, “You are here. You be the faith community liaison.” We are encouraging her to take authority and lead communities of faith, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and others, to be engaged in bringing healing and wholeness to this area that is home for families, many of whom have lived there for many generations. We should always be ready to step up into leadership as Pastor Judy has done. Such leadership is a sign of our commitment to social holiness.
Certified Lay Minister, Dawn Roberts, who lived through the Clear Lake fires not that long ago, shared what she and others had done to respond to the needs of a community already struggling with extreme poverty that had suddenly been burned down as well. Her ability to name all the ways our United Methodists with partners like the Mennonite Church have helped the Clear Lake community survive the impact of fires, was a powerful witness of what people of faith, even few in number, can do in times of need.
Rev. Caldwell explained the process that will now come. FEMA, the Red Cross and organizations like our own UMCOR will assess the devastation. But it will be local leaders who will need to determine the long-term response. Our Conference will do everything possible to assist our United Methodists to be involved in helping their communities plan long-term responses and find the necessary resources for these responses.
At each of the places we have visited this week, the one common regret of all our wonderful United Methodist leaders has been that they have not felt prepared for this natural disaster. Our Conference is scheduling disaster response trainings and even attempting to find ways to provide appropriate training for those who are already responding to these most recent fires. I would ask that our Circuits consider being trained together and naming a Circuit disaster response coordinator. In this way, we will be better prepared to watch over not only our congregations but the communities where we serve as well.
As we arrived in Ukiah in the morning we caught a glimpse of the fairgrounds which had been transformed into a staging site for the first responders. Fire trucks, ambulances, Red Cross vehicles and rows of small brightly colored tents where first responders rest filled the fairgrounds. As we left in the afternoon, the fairgrounds were half-full. First responders were out doing their work to contain the fires and save lives. Let us pray for them, that God may sustain them and protect them from all harm.
God is at work through our United Methodist family like our leaders in this area of our Conference. Thanks be to God!
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
Visiting with Sonoma CircuitOctober 16, 2017
Sisters and Brothers,
I pray this has been a blessed Autumn day for you. As Rev. Linda Caldwell and I drove up to Rohnert Park to visit with pastors and leaders of the Sonoma Circuit, we saw beautiful trees with their changing colors, rolling beige hills, and grazing animals. Soon enough though, we began to see the blackened earth where fires had burned the land.
The smoke that had gotten caught in our throats on Sunday in Santa Rosa, again became evident as we began to cough and our heads began to hurt. We felt badly for those who would not be able to leave the fire-affected area at the end of the day. It all brought back memories of the men and women wearing masks further north to protect their lungs, and the story of a truck driver who had stopped and offered a man walking his dog and wearing an inferior mask, a new and better mask. I also remembered the ashes that collected on the window edge of Linda’s vehicle in Santa Rosa, and the story of 110 fires.
A lay leader from Santa Rosa told me that at one point last week there had been 110 fires, an enormous number caused by high winds. He had pictures of pieces of bark, leaves, and even a glove. Like charred land they were black, but as one looked closely you could see a bit of red. They had become the flying embers that had multiplied the deadly fires.
Today we met with about 20 leaders from the Sonoma Circuit who shared their stories of evacuations, fear and a deep desire to serve others. We learned that 80% of our Sonoma church had evacuated. On Sunday morning those who had gathered for worship had looked around and realized that only the poor had stayed. Poverty is a sure deterrent to being able to easily move out of the way of the danger of natural disasters.
Other leaders commented about not feeling prepared. One couple from Petaluma shared they had an old earthquake survival kit. They took it out, brushed it off and replaced the expired canned food, but knew that it was probably not the appropriate survival kit for fires. With others from their church, they have been helping at the shelter at the local high school. They are organizing donations and keeping things in order. They are also lifting up the concern that our churches are not prepared for such disasters and we need to be, in order to care for our churches and our communities.
Pastor Lunisi Tovo from our church in Sebastopol has also been helping at the shelter in her community. While serving she quickly realized that there were many children who were receiving little supervision. Her Safe Sanctuary training kicked in and she began to focus her attention on the safety of the children. Claiming safe space in the tradition of so many stories in scripture, she had gone to ever corner of the shelter and prayed for the safety of the children and their families. Pastor Laurie McHugh of Windsor UMC has been caring for the elderly in her community. She was preparing to attend a workshop on ridding the body of the toxins of fire smoke and made the commitment to share what she learned with everyone present.
One lay woman talked about a friend who had been in the line of the fires and was rescued. She spoke of her friend as a bright woman with great gifts of organization and detail. But, by the time she saw her after her rescue, her friend was not tracking well. Her memory and understanding had been compromised. The hope is that the trauma of the fires will fade and her memory and understanding will return.
Several persons in the circle spoke of not knowing what to do other than to listen to the stories of those most affected by the fires. We affirmed the importance of allowing persons to share their tragic experiences and the gift that a kind listening ear can be. A social worker among us reminded us to hear the stories but to not take them home with us because it would soon make us ill and unable to help others. It was a good reminder to release all these stories, hurts and pains, to God at the end of the day.
Rev. Monique-Cheri Pierre, pastor in Forestville shared that a local restaurant had immediately begun to serve meals for first responders and others. Before long it had served 4,000 meals and then needed to recruit others to help. It turned to our UMC in town because it is known for its service. Forestville UMC has become a food preparation center for the hungry and hurting.
Rev. Eric Dale, pastor in Petaluma is guiding a conversation about what the church will do to continue to serve in this time of need. His lay leaders are committed to figuring out the next steps. An experienced first responder among us reminded us to stay calm, be patient, and be organized in our response following the guide of those who are responsible for leading the recovery.
Others in the circle remembered that we need to serve the homeless populations in these afflicted communities as they deal with this traumatic situation from an already difficult place. One long-term resident of Sonoma also expressed concern for the housing crisis across CA. The lack of adequate housing in Northern California has long been a problem and with Santa Rosa alone losing 5% of its housing in last week’s fires, this problem has just worsened.
A review of our conference disaster response steps led by Rev. Linda Caldwell helped us begin to consider our further responses. She helped us see that there are immediate needs and then there is the long-term recovery. She reminded us that United Methodists are known for arriving early in times of disaster and being the last to leave.
Rev. Matthew Pearson, pastor of Sonoma UMC, and the Sonoma Circuit Leader, invited us to end our gathering and Christian conferencing with a song of faith. He then led us in the singing of Great is Thy Faithfulness. The conviction of his voice encouraged us all. In prayer we asked for God’s healing touch upon the afflicted and the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit upon those serving.
God bless all our churches and communities in the Sonoma Circuit.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
Visiting First UMC Santa Rosa Today
October 15, 2017
First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa was full this morning; full of worshipers and full of faith. The members of Christ Church United Methodist Church also joined them. Using words from the Book of Job, Pastor Blake Busick gave witness to his dependence on and faith in God even in the worst of circumstances. He and his family lost their home and all their possessions in this week’s fires, but with tender love for his flock he guided the congregation to trust in God and to pray and support each other. He reminded all of us, of those less fortunate whose future is in extreme jeopardy – care givers, gardeners, hotel workers, and others who have no insurance, and now no jobs. They are in need of our support as well.
Associate Pastor Lindsey Kerr held up the story of Paul in prison who calls us to hope in God; real hope, the kind that waits for God for that which we cannot yet see. She encouraged us to believe in the hope of one like Paul, imprisoned and suffering yet never losing hope in what God would do to save him and will do to save us.
Choirs from the Fijian language community of faith and Christ Church UMC stirred our hearts. When I asked the children what we should pray for they named the need to pray for those who died, those who were hurt, those who lost their homes, the fire fighters and police officers, and the animals. They lifted up the prayers that were upon all our hearts.
First Santa Rosa church has a second campus in the Stony Point community. They too gathered for worship and filled their worship space as well. Tears flowed in this second service. One woman could no longer contain the trauma of having had to search for her missing sister over several days. Her sister was found alive and well but the trauma of a loved one lost in the path of powerful fires is horribly cruel.
Holy Communion at both services reminded us of the love of God and the presence of Christ Jesus, our Redeemer who feeds us at his table and strengthens us. Never has it felt more meaningful for me to serve God’s people at our Lord’s table than it did this morning.
A feast awaited us after the worship services. Persons who were staying at the church because they had been evacuated and could not yet go home were there, joined by church members and volunteers. A neighbor who had sent his three young daughters to help at the church shelter, was there to extend his support and appreciation for the church’s work.
Persons had so much to share about their experience. How quickly the fires came. Pastor Sekove Veisa, one of the pastors at First UMC Santa Rosa and our Conference Fijian ministry coordinator shared that he learned about the fires when his son called him at 3 in the morning this past Monday all the way from Fiji and told him that Santa Rosa was being consumed by fires. Others grieved the loss of their homes and neighborhoods, and not knowing where their neighbors are today. All agreed, however, that their experience has been one of neighbors saving neighbors. They are all thankful to God to be alive.
A young doctor from Russia with her mother who had moved to Santa Rosa to join the medical staff of a local hospital later this month has been at the church’s shelter all week as one left homeless. She is a psychiatrist and is preparing to serve in this community that will need much support to address the emotional impact of the destruction that has been inflicted upon them. Those who have come to know this young doctor and her mother admire the care and love they share between them, speaking of their mutual care and love as a model for others.
One Anglo woman all alone at the shelter told me that one night she asked if she could sleep with the Fijian women. They welcomed her into their circle. She was amazed at their sense of sisterhood. She wanted to be a part of that sisterhood. They have included her in their night singing, story-telling, and back rubs. But she really felt that she had made it into the sisterhood when in the morning they gave her work to do in the shelter.
As we shared the bountiful meal before us, and listened to the stories of life and faith, some of our Fijian brothers and sisters began to sing at a corner table. In full harmony, they sang in a way that comforted all of us. At the end of the last song, I asked what the song was about. A Fijian woman said, the title of the song is, “God’s Love is Enough.”
God’s love is always enough. What I experienced today was God’s love through pastors, church volunteers, those who have been left with nothing but who are by their own account, more ready today to love than ever before because they have experienced God’s love in their moment of great suffering.
As Rev. Linda Caldwell, our Conference Superintendent for Mission Collaboration and our disaster response leader, and I left our church in Santa Rosa, a team from Epworth UMC in Berkley was arriving, full of love ready to relieve the local volunteer team. On Tuesday, the Epworth volunteers will be relieved by a team from Loomis UMC. It is amazing what God can do when we allow the fullness of God’s own love to fall upon us and flow through us.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño