November 19, 2020
As we move into the holiday season, Bishop David Graves invites you to hear a brief video message. Click here for video. We invite you to share this message with your church and on social media. Click here for written transcript.
On other end of the line were Hurricane Sally survivors who needed help. Schwind, Zirlott Road UMC’s disaster coordinator, hopped in his car and drove the four miles to the church to meet them.
When he arrived, Schwind chatted and offered relief in the form of flood buckets, tarps, food, and diapers.
A longtime member of Zirlott Road UMC, last year Schwind stepped in to serve as the church’s disaster coordinator. While Hurricane Sally was the first storm to hit the Gulf Coast since he’s served in this role, Schwind is no stranger to disasters, having retired after serving 30 years as an incident commander in charge of resources for the disaster relief team of the Alabama Forestry Commission.
Having Schwind serve in this capacity has been a wonderful help, said Rev. Ben Mayfield, who pastors Zirlott Road UMC in Coden and New Hope UMC in Theodore. Past disasters have taught him that it would be helpful to have a dedicated volunteer in charge of coordinating relief efforts.
Utilizing Schwind’s gifts and graces frees Rev. Mayfield to be able to minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of the community, the pastor said.
“If the pastor is trying to run the disaster response and also trying to be the shepherd to the flock, they will definitely be worn down,” Rev. Mayfield said. “But to have somebody who can be there to help alongside in this is great. It’s a blessing.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, nearly 100 flood buckets and 100 tarps were given to those in the Zirlott Road, Mon Louis Island, and Fowl River Community area. Coordinating these efforts and helping others is an extension of Schwind’s faith and something he can do for others, he said.
“What I do allows Rev. Mayfield to do his job, being with people and counseling them. If you have lay members willing to get out there and do this and help out, it takes a big responsibility off the pastor,” he said. “It wasn’t all on the preacher to get things done. The lay people did their part and everybody worked together to get things done.”
One week ago today Hurricane Zeta raced through the Alabama-West Florida Conference, just weeks after Hurricane Sally made landfall along the coast. While Hurricane Sally left more long-term damage, Zeta added additional burdens and work for some areas.
We are pleased to announce that that United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has issued a $10,000 solidarity grant for Hurricane Zeta disaster response efforts. These grants allow funding for immediate on-the-ground efforts to help those communities most affected by Zeta.
“UMCOR continues to be a significant partner with our disaster response efforts,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF director of connectional ministries. “We have had to call on them multiple times in the past two years and they have stepped up to show their connectional dedication to the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Each storm that comes through this conference adds damage, heartache and response work, but we are using these challenges as opportunities to better our disaster response protocol. By now, we are pleased with our system and teamwork, yet we always have room for growth and improvement. Rev. Chris Ackerman, AWF disaster response director, is one of the most dedicated individuals I’ve encountered and I’m grateful for his continued leadership.”
Below is an update for each district in the conference. While some areas were able to quickly remove debris and return to regular operations, some areas of our conference are awaiting power to be restored. According to the Alabama Voluntary Organizations After Disaster (VOAD), this was the largest power outage event on record in the state of Alabama.
-no new damage other than limb debris
-Still in need of teams from Hurricane Sally
-Jackson FUMC: minor damage
-Thomasville UMC: minor roof damage, parsonage damage
-Camden UMC: minor roof damage
-All churches are assisting their communities
-Outside assistance is not needed at this time
-Power outages are still an issue
Marianna-Panama City District
-No new damage, continued recovery from Hurricane Michael
-Crawford UMC: damage to awning and cross
-Wilmer UMC: trees down and limb debris
-Dauphin Island UMC: flooding
-Coden UMC: flooding in sanctuary
-Pine Grove UMC: trees down
-Ebenezer UMC: trees down
-Chatom UMC: trees down
-Satsuma UMC: parsonage has limb debris and two church members with trees on house
-Citronelle UMC: trees down at parsonage; damage to roof at church, major damage to the town
-Mt. Vernon UMC: tree on fence; cemetery road blocked, two members with large oaks down; parsonage has tress down and sections of shingles missing
-No Zeta damage other than a sign down at Loachapoka UMC
-Some reports of damage in outlying areas of Selma, working to better understand this damage
-Some damage in Clanton with Clanton FUMC assisting well in the community
-No new damage from Zeta
-Relying on local volunteers, teams still needed for Hurricane Sally damage
Most of the damage from Zeta can be managed from local volunteers but outsides teams are desperately needed along the coast after Hurricane Sally. Please register your team through this form. As always, monetary donations are needed and greatly appreciated as we recover and rebuild. Click here to donate.
Click here to read a feature story on Rev. Chris Ackerman, AWF director of disaster response, and Amelia Fletcher, former director.
Click here to read a feature story about how our district disaster response coordinators have a positive impact on helping communities respond and communicate after a storm.
That’s why it’s necessary, Rev. Jared Parker says, to have a system in place in order to respond efficiently and effectively.
Since late 2018, Rev. Parker has helped coordinate disaster response and recovery efforts in the Mobile District. Stepping into that role after Hurricane Michael devastated the area, he’s helped homeowners, pastors, and communities impacted by Hurricanes Sally and Zeta.
Serving as the Mobile District Disaster Response Coordinator, Rev. Parker’s main role after a hurricane, tornado, flood, or other disaster is to help assess damage, manage the relief and response effort, and communicate with all involved.
“For Sally, we had some teams come from South Carolina, North Alabama, Virginia, and from across the annual conference,” said Rev. Parker, who also serves as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Semmes, Ala. “I would coordinate where they were going, make sure they had the supplies they needed, and help them get housing.”
One of seven District Disaster Response Coordinators in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Rev. Parker has a network of contacts established within congregations so that when disasters do strike, the team is ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
Regular training is critical, too, he says, to ensure that help gets where it’s needed quickly.
“Whenever a disaster hits, like Sally, it helps to be badged and certified so we can get in places like Dauphin Island.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, 15 churches in the Mobile District were damaged, almost every home on Dauphin Island was impacted, and minor damage was reported inland, he said.
Up before the sun, Rev. Parker would work to collect and distribute supplies, food, flood buckets, and tarps. He worked past dark most nights, in meetings, on the phone, and making sure that people who needed help were being served.
The Conference’s disaster response system is smooth, efficient, and effective, Rev. Parker said.
“Things were popping and happening that I didn’t have my hand in because of the way we have it organized. I was just kept in the loop and it was pretty cool to see it work,” he said.
But more than anything, he gave thanks for the countless volunteers who’ve served and been the hands and feet of Christ to those in need.
“Ultimately, it’s not the system, it’s people who make things happen.”
Under the leadership of Bishop Davis Graves, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has established The Coalition for Dismantling Racism. This group of leaders met Thursday, October 29, 2020, to begin critical work around racism.
Earlier in the year Bishop Graves encouraged the conference simply to take time and listen and stand in solidarity with people of color. Several intentional times of prayer have been held to keep this conversation on the forefront of hearts and minds.
"This year has been unprecedented in our country,” stated Bishop Graves. “We are at a significant crossroad with racism and equality in the United States and it has been my desire to offer support to people of color. I did not want to be reactionary on this topic after the death of George Floyd. Instead, I wanted to seek God’s guidance and spend time in prayer so that my leadership on this topic was appropriate and helpful. Establishing this coalition will allow multiple voices to contribute to this vital work. This did not need to be a top-down initiative but rather a collective strategic plan.”
The Coalition for Dismantling Racism members are:
Bishop David Graves, co-chair
Audrey Rodgers, co-chair
*Celeste Eubanks and Ashley Davis will offer staff support to this team.
The goal of the coalition is to have conversations around racism that will provide guidance to our local churches, congregations and communities on the next steps for the Alabama-West Florida Conference.