Small Churches Doing Big Ministries
By Susan J. Meister*
June 9, 2008—When wildfires swept through Palm Bay, Brevard County on the east coast of Florida in early May, the Florida Disaster Recovery Ministry, an UMCOR partner, worked with local churches, the Atlantic-Central district, staff and many volunteers to respond.
Fellowship United Methodist Church stepped up to the emergency, "on fire for Jesus."
"We showed that small churches can do big ministries," explained pastor Shirley Groom.
"On Mother's Day (May 11), we celebrated Pentecost. Our theme was 'Catch the fire!'" Groom continued. "On Tuesday, I called the Chamber offering our assistance. It turns out they needed help that very day with lunch and dinner for firefighters. I called Patti (Aupperlee) and the connectional system went into action."
St. Paul's UMC brought sandwiches for lunch and Sun Tree UMC delivered a full dinner. Fellowship UMC then became the distribution point for water, food and other supplies for the area.
At final count, the emergency relief managed through Fellowship UMC assisted 3,378 persons representing 401 families.
Florida disaster response organization proves effective
Aupperlee, Atlantic-Central District Disaster Coordinator, is part of the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry. "With the history of hurricanes in Florida, we have become 'experts' in response to each other in prayer, love and support during times of need," she explained.
Keith Heinly, from St. Paul's UMC Melbourne, helped lead the Emergency Response Team. He called in other trained early responders and assisted the pastor in putting out the call for donations and contacting shelter sites. "The communication system and response of our United Methodist Church was very effective," he added.
State in peak wildfire season
According to the Florida Division of Forestry, this is the peak of wildfire season. At the time of the wildfires in Palm Bay, fire officials were battling 90 fires around the state. The fires in Brevard County burned nearly 10,000 acres, destroying 30 homes and damaging 120.
The Brevard Long Term Recovery Coalition, already in place working on mitigation (implementation of home strategies designed to protect a home from receiving, or at least minimizing, storm damage), is working with the leaders from the City of Palm Bay to set up assessment and case management for persons affected by the fires.
"The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church has always been one of our strongest partners following a disaster," said Liz (Elizabeth) Lee, Executive Director.
At the Florida Annual Conference, the Disaster Recovery Ministry distributed a newsletter describing the effort in Palm Bay and encouraged local churches to prepare.
"Trained persons know what to do and how to communicate," explained Pam Garrison, disaster recovery volunteer coordinator. "(UMCOR and UMVIM) training is paying off."
"One city official, with tears in his eyes, asked how we (Fellowship UMC) responded so fast," smiled pastor Groom. "I told him it was the connection - we have others who come and know how to help."
*Meister is the UMCOR Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent.