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UMCOR and UMVIM Make New Connections

A new road for working together was paved at the Feb. 8-10, 2007 conference between two ministry networks of The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Committee on Relief domestic disaster response staff, annual conference disaster response coordinators and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission jurisdictional and annual conference coordinators met together for the first time at the picturesque Mt. Sequoyah Conference and Retreat Center outside of Fayetteville, Ark.

Sequoyah-walking5"This was a landmark gathering," said the Rev. Clinton Rabb, GBGM Mission Volunteers executive."This UMVIM-UMCOR consultation has been a "lessons learned" conference as well as a renewal of our common commitment to serve people and communities in the midst of disasters."

The conference, "Making the Connection" was planned by members of both groups to foster dialog and to set the stage for continued work together. Clinton Rabb, Barbara Stone, Nick Elliott,Barbara Tripp, Gordon Knuckey, Kristin Sachen, and Dr. David Watson, all gave significant input into the shape of the three-day gathering.

The conference's keynote speaker, Dr. Watson, brought theological reflections on serving in disaster areas. His background as a United Methodist pastor and educator with a focus on covenant discipleship brought significant light to the ways in which UMCOR and UMVIM can work together. Dr. Watson's keynote address set the tone of the conference and his talks on the following days continued to inspire and guide participants.

Sequoyah-worship2

Participants sang and worshiped together throughout the conference. Large and small group sessions helped form new bonds and create deeper understanding between the two organizations, resulting in two important documents: "The Protocol for UMCOR/UMVIM Collaboration in US Disaster Response" and "Covenant of UMCOR and UMVIM in US Disaster Response."

Doing Disaster Response Better

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive for domestic disaster response, began the conference by sharing his own background in disaster response. "The greatest asset of The United Methodist Church is its people," said Rev Hazelwood. He recalled that when he was a pastor in Ft. Smith, Ark., a tornado struck the area in 1996. At that time he had no experience in disaster response and knew little about UMCOR or UMVIM. "That is when I got a real education in both programs," said Rev. Hazelwood.

Sequoyah-devotionUMVIM seeks to put faith into action, challenging the church membership into service. UMCOR responds to disasters, helping annual conferences in their response which includes coordinating volunteers that come eager to help. During a disaster UMCOR and UMVIM would often run into each other. Rev. Hazelwood recalled that there would be volunteers everywhere, sometimes with no one managing their response and capabilities.

Over the last 10 years the number of volunteers has grown dramatically, especially in response to the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. The challenges UMCOR and UMVIM face have grown as well. Rev. Hazelwood challenged the conference participants to ask themselves, "How can we do disaster response together in a better way?"

Learning Together
Over the three-day conference participants learned about what happens in a disaster from a variety of view points. Gordon Knuckey, UMCOR consultant, taught about managing the chaos following a disaster. Kristin Sachen, then UMCOR assistant deputy general secretary, explained how money is transferred from congregations to UMCOR and from UMCOR to disaster response. Small groups met to share experiences, expectations and to explore what a partnership could look like.

Sequoyah-audience5In seeking a new way to work together conference participants developed the "Protocol for UMCOR/UMVIM Collaboration in US Disaster Response." This document is the first of its kind for these organizations. It sets out how they will work together in the event of a disaster so that the incredible resource of volunteers is properly used to bring the best result for the survivors who most need assistance. The protocol will act as a compass for all involved in disaster response.

Rev. Hazelwood noted that over the past 10 years, UMCOR and UMVIM have walked together in a variety of ways. UMCOR helps the annual conference establish its response mechanism and serves as advisor to the annual conference. During this time volunteer management has become unwieldy. Some annual conferences are equipped to handle large numbers of volunteers, some are not. The protocol will reduce that burden.

The protocol also introduces a new entity, the Jurisdictional Disaster Response Volunteer Management Team. This team helps provide leadership and support when there is a large influx of volunteers in response to a disaster.

Sequoyah-Barbara&NancyDr. Watson encouraged the participants to also form a covenant with one another to formalize the bond they have made. It will stand as a testimony and a reminder during the difficult times they will invariably face in upcoming disasters. This covenant to work together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will uphold its signatories to a higher standard in their continued work together.

The conference concluded with its goals fulfilled. New relationships were formed, old bonds were strengthened, and all had a new vision for the important work they do on behalf of disaster survivors.

Photo credits: Barbara Stone and Marilyn Braswell