United Methodists respond to Hurricane Irene
BY MELISSA LAUBER
As the area begins to clean up and recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, which brought torrential rains and high winds to the East Coast Aug. 27, Bishop John Schol called on United Methodists to in prayer for families who experienced loss, for the rescue workers and for the relief workers.
"I also call upon you to give generously of your time and money in the coming months to help provide relief and healing. The Baltimore-Washington Conference will assess any relief needs in our conference and also relief needs beyond our conference," he said.
The bishop and Annapolis District Superintendent, the Rev. Chris Holmes, gave high praise to churches like Ferndale UMC that reached out to their community during the storm and expressed confidence that United Methodists will continue their long tradition of staying with people in need of disaster relief and recovery work long after the headlines fades.
"A church opens its doors. That's what a church does," said Alice Neary, the Serve Team leader of Ferndale UMC.
When you're told a hurricane is approaching, open doors become essential. "We wanted God's house to be available to people," said Neary, who took measures to ensure that the small homeless community that lives in the nearby woods had shelter from the storm, which swept through the region.
Ferndale provides showers and a meal for a few of the homeless on Wednesdays. Neary made sure people in the nearby informal "tent cities" knew they would have a dry place to stay.
"We let it be known the church would be open to everyone," said the Rev. Michael Cantley. "We would serve as a refuge for people and their pets. As soon as the word went out, people started dropping off kennels and casseroles."
One woman, who lives in a tent near a creek, brought her 11 cats. She came with just the clothes on her back and her cats, Neary said. "She couldn't leave her cats."
Together, the woman gathered with 10 other homeless people and some members of the church and watched the pouring rain. "It would have been just horrible out in the woods, not only the torrential downpour, but the wind created dangers from falling trees."
During the storm, state officials estimated, about 850,000 businesses and households lost electrical power. At Ferndale, there was no power in the sanctuary, but the building where the group gathered to cook kept their electricity. "We had lights. We could cook. God provided," Cantley said.
"I feel like this was what God would want us to do," Neary said. "This is what we're taught to do. What better place could we be in a storm than with one another in church?"
That Sunday morning, several of the overnight guests stayed for worship and at the request of social workers in Annapolis, the church stayed open a second night.
"God's good ground is a refuge for all these people, for all of us," said Cantley, who admits he was a little hesitant about opening the church doors in such a dramatic way.
"The logistics were a bit intimidating," Cantley said. "But overall this is the right stuff for us to be doing. It makes me proud. We've said that this is an important place for the United Methodist church to share the love of God," he added. "It makes a difference."
Earlier that week, on the night that an earthquake had shaken the region earlier in the day, Cantley was preparing Sunday's bulletin. Anticipating Hurricane Irene, he wrote: "Behold, wet and soggy, shaking or still, we stand on holy ground."
On Monday, that ground had never seemed holier, he said. "The church is a wonderful place to share the love of the Lord."