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Connectional system ‘works’ in recovery, pastors say


Connectional system ‘works’ in recovery, pastors say

Sept. 13, 2005       

A UMNS Report
By Woody Woodrick*

Electrical wires and telephones lines might have been lost in the hours and days following Hurricane Katrina, but the United Methodist connection was up and working.

Two pastors in Laurel, Miss., which saw hundreds of trees fall across homes and power lines, say the connectional system of the United Methodist Church gave them aid and hope when other organizations couldn’t.

“One thing that was so amazing in trying to find help has been our connectional system,” said the Rev. Roy Pearson, of West Laurel United Methodist Church.

“The connectional system works,” said the Rev. Don Patterson of First United Methodist Church.

Clergy are all right

Mississippi Bishop Hope Morgan Ward extended a word of thanks for that connectional system in a message to the United Methodist Council of Bishops. She reported that all of the clergy in the storm-struck areas of Mississippi have been contacted.

“We give thanks that we have now been in touch with all the clergy of the Mississippi Conference and report that we know of none who have been injured by the wind and water of Katrina,” Ward said in a message to the council.

“There has been loss of life in several of our destroyed churches where members and neighbors sought refuge from the wind and water,” she said. “We are creating teams of clergy to surround each impacted pastor with support and care.”

She thanked the bishops for the care they have extended to the conference, which comprises 1,160 congregations. She cited the provision of RVs for housing displaced clergy. “As these temporary homes continue to arrive, there is great relief and thanksgiving,” she said.

Caring for internally displaced families is a huge challenge, she said. “Thank you for your offerings of shelter and long-term housing,” she said.
“I continue to be amazed at the patience and perseverance of the laity and clergy of the Mississippi Conference,” she said in her message. “These are times that try us — days without electricity, cell service, land lines, water — and yet there is (an) overwhelming sense of the enormity of the disaster and the need for cooperation and helpfulness.”

Help from Florida

In Laurel, Pearson contributed to the connection in the days following the storm. The hurricane-force winds hit this town, more than 100 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, on Aug. 29. Downed trees blocked Pearson from leaving his neighborhood for two days. Pearson’s parsonage had moderate damage from a falling tree.

When he finally arrived at his church, Pearson found it had electricity and telephone service. Most of Jones County did not.

After checking on church members, Pearson began calling area churches and pastors to check on their condition and needs. Soon, however, he was on the receiving end of calls from all over the country offering assistance. As he thankfully accepted offers, Pearson also began leading his church in aiding those in the community. The church cooked meals and served as a distribution center for supplies.

The first work team to arrive came from the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches in Florida. Pearson said the church’s pastor, the Rev. David McEntire, counseled him both personally and about dealing with the disaster. McEntire’s church in West Palm Beach had been through hurricanes itself.

The Florida team offered help in running the distribution center and kitchen and with debris cleanup. Patti Aupperlee of West Palm Beach said she began organizing the trip as soon as she heard how hard the storm had hit. She e-mailed the Rev. Jeff Pruett, Mississippi Conference coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, asking where she could help. He suggested Laurel.

The team from Florida spent almost a week in Laurel before leaving Sept. 9.

“None of us thought about it,” Aupperlee said. “If we had, we wouldn’t have done it. It has been such a blessing to be here. God truly paved the way.”

Joint efforts

Assistance also came to West Laurel United Methodist Church from Hollandale, Miss., in the form of Buck Furr. A member of Hollandale United Methodist Church, Furr had told his pastor, Sam Dodd, that if someone needed help, Furr would provide it. While checking on his aunt in Mobile, Ala., following the storm, Furr got a call asking him to go to Laurel. He arrived and led a group of men from First Church in Alabaster, Ala., that cut downed trees.

First Church Laurel followed a similar path. Patterson, the pastor, said his members delivered meals to those who couldn’t get out (150-200 per day), acted as a distribution center, housed 50 deputies from other states who had come to assist in law enforcement, and helped set up a medical clinic for those dependent on oxygen to breathe.

The clinic and other efforts have been part of joint efforts with nearby Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. Patterson also cited churches from across the nation that have sent aid or plan to send work teams.

Not all of the aid has come from out of state. Patterson said several churches in towns that weren’t hit have provided aid.

Patterson said the ordeal has brought out the best in his congregation. “This congregation has pulled together,” he said. “They’re not just doing the gospel; they are the gospel to this community. All of the spiritual gifts have emerged.”

Kim Wheat stepped in to keep the work organized.

“Our church is downtown, so we’re in the middle of every community,” she said. “This is the first time in the seven years I’ve been part of this church (that) I’ve seen every part of our community walk through the doors.”

For example, Wheat said Hispanic families have come to the church seeking help. If language becomes a barrier, church workers take the families into the storage area and let them point at items they need.

“We can’t wait for Sunday to invite our extended community,” Wheat continued. “We’re within walking distance of communities we don’t serve as a church on a regular basis. Now we can do that.”

Donations to support the United Methodist response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy can be made online at and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

*Woodrick is editor of the Mississippi Advocate, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Mississippi Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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