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Churches band together for storm response in Meridian, Miss.

 


Churches band together for storm response in Meridian, Miss.

Sept. 16, 2005

By Woody Woodrick*

MERIDIAN, Miss. (UMNS) — An old adage says you can’t be all things to all people. When it comes to helping hurricane victims, churches in Meridian are trying.

Four United Methodist churches have worked together and with city officials to provide aid and support to those stranded by Hurricane Katrina.

Central United Methodist opened its Red Cross shelter on Aug. 28, the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and Louisiana. Later, Poplar Springs Drive United Methodist Church also opened as a shelter. St. Paul and Haven United Methodist churches have provided support for both shelters.

In addition to operating as a shelter for as many as 400 guests, Central has served as a distribution center for supplies, and it has brought in state and federal aid agencies to process evacuees’ claims. The church also has helped people who want to relocate to the east Mississippi city find homes and jobs.

“This is quite possibly the most eternally significant thing people could be a part of,” said the Rev. Roger Shock, an associate pastor at Central United Methodist Church. “It is transforming our new facility. It looks like it is being used. People’s lives are being touched by the Body of Christ like never before.”

The impact has been felt across the community. Central and Poplar Springs Drive churches are predominantly white. St. Paul and Haven are African-American churches. They have built a strong spirit of cooperation.

“We don’t have the capacity to do what Central can do,” said the Rev. Tim Thompson, pastor of St. Paul and Haven churches, “but we love God and were interested in what Central was doing.

“A large percentage of the evacuees are African American, and they want to see folks who look like them.”

Bill McBride, who manages the shelter for Central, agreed. “You see the customers we have,” McBride said. “I am smart enough to see they are not going to relate to me the way (Thompson) can. A lot of African Americans in the Meridian community are visiting with the guests. That community has come forward every time we’ve asked and furnished pastors and role models for our guests.”

The Sweet Spirit choir from St. Paul was scheduled to sing a couple of songs for the shelter guests Sept. 4, and the group was so well received that it sang for two hours, Thompson said. Four days later, choir director Jonas Crenshaw and other members of the group fed about 220 people still at the shelter.

All this in a city that got its share of damage. High winds knocked over trees, blowing many of them onto houses, across roads and through power lines.

Katrina is the second disaster Central has addressed as a Red Cross shelter. “I’m proud of what we’re doing,” McBride said. “We get a bigger blessing than they do.”

Civic leaders, taking notice of the shelter, have included Central in discussions of long-term issues relating to Katrina. During the days after the storm, government agencies came to the church and set up offices so the guests would not have to drive all over town to find out about Social Security checks, food stamps, Medicare and other services.

Perhaps most impressive has been the church’s work helping guests become permanent residents.

Shock said his wife, Jan Shock, and Deneane Nix suggested asking if any of the evacuees wanted to make Meridian their home. After about 40 families said yes, the women contacted government officials, who will screen applicants and do interviews. The church found an apartment complex where the owners agreed to waive a deposit and allow guests to move in without a lease.

Like other Mississippi churches, the Meridian congregations have found churches across the nation eager to help. Shock said Central has received thousands of dollars in donations to help with shelter expenses, and some churches have offered to sponsor families for up to six months.

While Central has been a leader, Shock said the response would not have happened without all the churches in the community. “The relationship among the churches will be improved,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without the Baptists, the Episcopalians and others in the community.”

Thompson said Central’s role doesn’t surprise him. “Central has been spiritually preparing for this for several years,” he said. “They’re learning how to better serve the community.”


*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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

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