|Churches heal emotions after Enterprise tornadoes|
Rescue workers carry an injured teen from Enterprise (Ala.) High School where eight students were killed during a March 1 tornado. A UMNS photo by John Dean.
By Meredyth Earnest*
March 7, 2007 | ENTERPRISE, Ala. (UMNS)
Within days after a powerful tornado roared through town killing nine people, including eight high school students, Enterprise First United Methodist Church welcomed hundreds of youth for a special worship service to remember their dead and injured classmates and begin the emotional process of healing.
Just down the road from Enterprise High School at St. Luke United Methodist Church, where the tornado knocked out a sanctuary wall, shattered windows and left a hole in the roof, members mobilized and opened a "comfort station" in the church parking lot to offer hot meals to storm victims, relief workers and school system employees on the job.
The March 1 tornado ripped out a sanctuary wall and damaged the roof
to St. Luke United Methodist Church
in Enterprise. A UMNS photo
by Meredyth Earnest.
Recovery teams from the Alabama-West Florida Annual (regional) Conference arrived to help clean up, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief sent a $10,000 emergency grant.
"As all churches are, we're trying to reach out in our community and make sure that people's physical needs are met, but also their emotional needs as well," said the Rev. Gary Daniel, pastor of Enterprise First United Methodist Church.
Dozens of tornadoes bounced across Alabama, Georgia and Missouri on March 1, killing at least 20 people and causing millions of dollars in property damage. However, Enterprise became the focal point of the storm's fury when a tornado slammed into the high school building as 1,200 students huddled in interior hallways for safety. Five boys and three girls died as part of the building collapsed.
"It is the worst destruction I have seen from a tornado," said the Rev. Michael Lawler, pastor of First United Methodist Church in nearby Brundidge, which dispatched a work team to Enterprise the day after the tornado hit. "… All the news is showing is right around the high school, but so much more was destroyed, both in Enterprise and in other areas of the conference."
In Alabama, the hardest hit areas were Coffee and Wilcox counties, where Cliff Gaston, a member of Camden United Methodist Church, was among the dead.
The church responded to the devastation quickly at the local, conference and denominational levels.
Emotional worship services
Sunday morning services at Enterprise First United Methodist Church on March 4 were rich in emotion and well-attended. The membership includes the high school principal and several teachers and one girl who was trapped - and escaped from the rubble of Hallway 3, where the other students died.
"Needless to say, I didn't preach the sermon I had planned," said Daniel, who instead talked about the importance of grieving with each other with particular sensitivity to the families of those killed. "We need to be careful about throwing out phrases such as 'angels of protection' and 'I was really blessed.' We need to listen to our theological language through the ears of those who have lost so much," he said.
Damaged cars and building materials lie
in a heap outside the high school.
A UMNS photo by John Dean.
Later on Sunday, youth pastors of Enterprise United Methodist Church and Hillcrest Baptist Church "reached out to the kids in the community" with a special worship service that made school and private counselors available to teens and their families. Several hundred people attended.
"It was the first time since the tragedy that there had been a group gathering of the kids," said Daniel. "It was a moving and emotional time with lots of hugs. But the strength of the community was evident. There was the realization that what has happened has happened, and we cannot change it. But together, we're going to get through it."
In response, members of the United Methodist church youth group-out of school for at least a week because of the storm damage-pledged to spend each day cleaning out a home of someone in their community, instead of sitting home and anguishing over the tragedy. "Their spirit of service is a testament to the will of this community," said Daniel.
While St. Luke suffered serious damage to its sanctuary and parsonage and lost its bus and van in the tornado, the church opened a "comfort station" where members have provided hot meals to those in need and are helping in disaster relief.
"A few of our church members saw the need for this and began taking money out of their own pockets to do this," said the Rev. Glenn Butler, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church. "Our church may be damaged, but our ministry is not."
(From left) Robert Elliott, Sonny Smith, Herma deLang and Noreen McAbee man the comfort station in the St. Luke parking lot. A UMNS photo by Meredyth Earnest.
St. Luke held March 4 worship services at a local junior college and was making arrangements to meet elsewhere for at least six months during the repairs and reconstruction of the church.
Meanwhile, the buzz of chainsaws is steady while the sight of debris-moving equipment is common throughout the area. First United Methodist Church of Enterprise is serving as a Red Cross Relief Center, while First United Methodist Church of Abbeville, Ala., has become a Red Cross shelter.
"The people of the Alabama-West Florida Conference are already responding and recovery teams are on the ground assisting in cleanup efforts," said Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster. "I am thankful for the calls of support from other bishops and for the financial support and encouragement of the United Methodist Committee on Relief."
Representatives of UMCOR and Volunteers in Mission toured the area March 5-6 and began to map out strategies to assist with recovery and rebuilding.
“Our church may be damaged, but our ministry is not.” –The Rev. Glenn Butler
First United Methodist church of Montgomery, Ala., sent trucks loaded with food and cleaning, health and baby supplies to Enterprise and Miller's Ferry.
"When we arrived at Enterprise First to unload the truck, the youth group was just returning from working all day on a home, yet they were still willing to help us unload the van and set up the distribution site," said the Rev. David Saliba, associate pastor of the Montgomery congregation.
People and churches within the Alabama-West Florida conference wanting to send a work team should call the conference disaster recovery office at (866) 340-1956 or e-mail email@example.com. Those outside the conference are asked to coordinate through the Southeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Volunteers in Mission office in Atlanta at (404) 377-7424. Once in Enterprise, all volunteers must report to the Volunteer Reception Center at Christ the King Lutheran Church, 208 Watts Street, to register with local officials.
Georgia relief efforts
In Georgia, meanwhile, recovery efforts centered in Americus, about 120 miles south of Atlanta, where the same storm system killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. In all nine people are confirmed dead in Georgia following the March 1 storms.
UMCOR also released a $10,000 emergency grant to the South Georgia Annual Conference to support its initial relief efforts.
The Rev. Glenn Butler speaks with residents in the wake of the deadly storms. A UMNS photo by
Early response teams are encouraged to call the South Georgia Storm Recovery Call Center at First United Methodist Church in Americus, (229) 924-9414. Organizers say special needs include chainsaws, front-end loaders, bobcats or tractors with forks that can move large trees to the curb.
To contribute to UMCOR relief efforts, write "UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response" on the memo line of your check and place in your church offering plate or mail to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087.
Another giving opportunity will take place March 18 in local United Methodist churches throughout the United States through the annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering. The money will enable UMCOR to provide emergency relief to vulnerable people in tornado-ravaged areas and other communities around the world suffering from the effects of disaster, conflict or severe economic hardship. For more information and to order free resources for this March 18 observance, go to www.umc.org or www.umcgiving.org.
*Earnest is communications director for the Alabama-West Florida conference.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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