As coordinator of Disaster Recovery for the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church, I could write any number of stories of survival and heroism during the April 27 tornado outbreak in Alabama.
It has been an amazing time of strength and courage on the part of the people of Alabama. As a United Methodist clergyperson who has a unique perspective on this tragedy, it has been the power of our United Methodist connectional system that has been so impressive to me.
The first Sunday after the storm, North Alabama Conference Bishop William H. Willimon asked to preach in a church whose pastor was impacted by the storm. Forest Lake United Methodist in Tuscaloosa had 37 members who had lost their homes and/or businesses. The pastor was in the hospital very ill as a direct result of the storm.
Bishop Willimon preached, and I served as liturgist this first Sunday after the storm. Our presence was the first example of our connectional system at work.
Also present in the service was Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for Disaster Response in the United States. He addressed the congregation about the various ways UMCOR would be in partnership with us throughout our response and recovery phases.
Our district superintendent was also present. The bishop and district superintendents were available to all of our churches affected by the storm, and they are still very supportive of the recovery efforts.
Further power of our connectional system became evident as UMCOR-trained Early Response Teams began to pour into our state from across our country. Early on in the disaster, I served as the Disaster Response coordinator of the Southwest District. This district includes Tuscaloosa. We had more than 70 UMCOR-trained teams from across the country come to Tuscaloosa during that time.
We had many other teams throughout our state as well. I could never say enough about the professionalism, the expertise displayed, and the genuine heart for ministry exhibited by the teams of Methodist people who wanted to be the hands and feet of Christ to us.
I have been so proud of the way our conference has responded to the tragedy, beginning with our bishop, his Cabinet, and conference staff. Early on, a Disaster Response Center was set up at our North Alabama Conference Center, with volunteers pouring in from throughout the area to answer the 1-800 phone lines and direct incoming teams to areas needing help.
Now, with the help of recovery teams from throughout the United Methodist connectional system, including UMVIM-trained teams, we have organized for the long haul.
We could not have come this far in our recovery without the help of the UMCOR staff and consultants. Every one of them has helped us in some way. I am so grateful for our United Methodist connectional system and how it has been the power fueling the United Methodist response to recovery in Alabama.