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Tornado Losses, Lessons:  Rev. Kelly Clem



There have been a number of incredibly destructive tornadoes in the U. S. recently, and one pastor is uniquely qualified to understand, counsel and pray with people whose futures are blowing in the wind. The Rev. Kelly Clem lost her church, and her child, in a storm in 1994.

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(Locator: Harvest, Alabama)

It was just almost like déjà vu. It's so sad.

My name is Kelly Clem and I'm the pastor of Holmes Street United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

I was the pastor of Goshen United Methodist Church in 1994. It was Palm Sunday. We were halfway through the service and a tornado dropped down and destroyed the entire church. Twenty people were killed. One of those killed was my 4-year-old daughter Hannah. I went towards where Hannah was. I did find her but she was unconscious and I just talked to her and I patted her and reassured her that I was here. A rescue worker came and took her and tried to see if they could revive her, and they weren't able to. I think deep down in me I knew that she had died, but I wasn't ready to accept that yet. I didn't find out until a few hours later when they asked me to identify what she was wearing. And then we sent a friend over to actually physically identify her.

(1994) I'm not feeling very theological right now, but I know I don't blame God. God has been with us throughout all of this. God did not make this happen.

I have made a wonderful recovery. There's been so much healing in my life. One friend in particular is my friend Dorothy Ann Webster who came and helped me sort through the junk, sort through papers on my desk that I needed to throw away. They were getting moldy and mildewy. It was so hard to do, but she came and was patient enough to just let me tell the stories that went with all the things that I had to throw away. And I'll never forget that act of kindness and love.

And now the tables are turned and she's the one who's going through the tornado.

(Dorothy Webster) I'm Dorothy Ann Webster. I'm the pastor at Ford's Chapel United Methodist Churchin Harvest, Alabama, and the church was hit by one of the tornados that came through on April 27th. Several of our church members lost their homes.

(Kelly Clem at church) So, don't be afraid to be sad and cry and to reach out for help.

Now I go into these affected areas, and I feel it in my heart. But I also feel like I can carry with me hope, that people will get through this. I have an idea what it's going to be like next week and next month for them, and they don't see that yet.

(Kelly Clem at church) So, one of the things that we can do is not compare ourselves to somebody else, but to say, 'Okay God, what do I have?'

I don't want them to have to think about my story, but I hope that I bring some empathy and understanding. Of course, as a pastor you find yourself in the middle of a situation with a family that's lost a child, it's harder for me, it's difficult, and funerals are hard, but when I'm there and I can say 'I've lost a child too.' I don't say 'I know what you're going through.' I can say 'I've lost a child too,' and they'll say 'Okay.' And so there's sort of a special bond and that's a privilege.

(Kelly Clem on home site) Mr. Edwards, I'm Kelly Clem. I'm the pastor of the church that's here, you tell us any way we can help you.

(Mr. Edwards) Good to see you. Just any way you'all can!

(Kelly Clem) Alright.

(Edwards hitting wall with sledge hammer)

When I talk to people about storms, I say to them that storms take on many forms. And no matter what the storm is, what caused it, God is with us in the storm, God is with us through the storm just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples in the stormy sea, that God never leaves us, and God is there throughout the storm and in the recovery from the storm."


To find out more about how the United Methodist Committee on Relief is helping those affected by spring storms, you can call at 1-800-UMC-GBGM.

Posted: May 25, 2011