Churches reach out after swath of storms

The twisters that ripped through the Midwest February 28 and 29 ushered in another barrage of severe weather March 2 that killed at least 39 people in five states. But even as United Methodists mourned losses, they continued to reach out.

One of the hardest-hit towns was West Liberty, Kentucky, population 3,435, reduced to rubble by 150 mph winds.

The Rev. Kenneth W. Jett Jr., pastor of West Liberty UM Church, his wife, Jeanene, and two congregants ran for shelter in a small cubbyhole in the church basement as the building crumbled around them. Both the church and the parsonage sustained major damage.

Louisville Area Bishop G. Lindsey Davis assured the devastated communities, “God sees our pain, and God will provide for us in these days to come.” Encouraging prayer, he said, “We are a generous people, and I urge our churches to respond by giving. … May God bless us as we work together.”

The Rev. Charles Wilfong, a district superintendent in the Indiana Conference, reported widespread damage, especially in the towns of Henryville, Marysville, Pekin, and Palmyra. “I learned that two Pekin UMC families have lost their homes,” Wilfong said in an email message, adding that several congregants were in serious condition and hospitalized. “The church, parsonage and family life center all have power restored, and the congregation is rallying to assist the community.”

In Ohio, the village of Moscow experienced the fury of an EF3 tornado with winds of about 160 mph. Three people lost their lives. Grant Memorial UM Church, Point Pleasant, Ohio, is just three miles from Moscow.

“The congregation immediately went into servant mode, providing relief to those families affected by the tornadoes,” said the Rev. Jocelyn Roper, assistant to the Ohio River Valley district superintendent. Members provided food as the church became a depository for relief supplies.

Volunteers from the Tennessee Conference continued to respond to the deadly tornado outbreak experienced across the South over the weekend. “Our hearts and prayers are with those affected by these devastating storms,” said Brandon Hulette, director of mercy, mission and disaster recovery for the conference.

Tornadoes touched down in several parts of Middle Tennessee on March 3.

By Saturday evening, the conference had deployed two trained emergency response teams to Kingston Springs, Tenn., with operations based out of the United Methodist church there, which was damaged in the storm.

In addition, two emergency response teams were deployed to the Dodson Branch area of Jackson County, Tenn. Conference personnel are coordinating the volunteer effort there in conjunction with partner agencies, Hulette said.

The best immediate way to assist those affected by the recent tornados is by donating to UMCOR’s fund for U.S. Disaster Response. Contributors can select “Tornadoes 2012” from the “special designation” drop-down menu on the webpage. UMCOR also is asking for donations of cleaning buckets or financial contributions to purchase cleaning supplies through its Material Resource Ministry.

By Barbara Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications. Linda Bloom of United Methodist News Service contributed to this story.