(Updated at 1 p.m. MDT, Sept. 19)
By Heather Hahn and Tim Tanton*
United Methodists in Colorado are asking for prayers and monetary donations in the wake of the floods that have ripped up roads, cut off communities and taken people’s lives.
Nearly 500 people were still unaccounted for following the deadly floods as of Sunday, Sept. 15, according to news reports.
“My prayers are with all who are responding to flooding along the Front Range today,” Mountain Sky Area Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky posted on Facebook on Sept. 13. “And more to come. God is in the midst of the trouble. A very present help in time of need.”
The dead include the grandson of a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Boulder. The teen was swept away while trying to rescue his girlfriend, who also died.
Stanovsky visited churches affected by the flooding. In a Sept. 15 Facebook post, she wrote, “This morning I’ll visit as many churches affected by the terrible floods as possible. My message: When the storms of life are raging, God stands by you. The whole church prays and upholds you during this terrible disaster.
“Thanks to all the pastors and lay persons in churches on the front lines of the flooding, who offer a ministry of help and presence when the world is literally turning upside down and washing away,” she wrote.
Strickland, who is also new church development coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Annual (regional) Conference, was monitoring the situation and checking on pastors in his district Sept. 13, as well as attending a long-planned meeting in Idaho on starting new congregations. His wife is staying with their son in North Longmont.
He said the floodwaters in some areas were already higher than the deadly Thompson Canyon flood in 1976 in part because of burn scars left after wildfires, which destroyed much of the vegetation that ordinarily would have absorbed the rain.
He said that one pastor in his district and the mother of a newborn, the Rev. Emily Flemming, opened Lyons (Colo.) United Methodist Church at 2 a.m. Sept. 13 to take in evacuees. Later in the day, the National Guard evacuated the entire town of Lyons. Both Flemming and her family were safe, the conference reported.
“We’re in the emergency phase right now and then we will be moving into the response phase in the next few weeks,” the Rev. Nancy Boswell, disaster relief coordinator for the Peaks and Plains District. “That’s when we’ll gather people into work teams to clean up and then get people back on their feet.”
She is also the pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Fort Collins and helped coordinate the recovery after last year’s wildfires.
For now, both Boswell and Strickland asked United Methodists for prayer and funds, particularly since many of those affected do not have flood insurance.
The Rocky Mountain Conference shared an update on its churches:
• Lyons United Methodist Church: The town is completely isolated and the infrastructure is destroyed. No clean water is available.
• Johnstown United Methodist Church: There is no access to the town.
• St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Boulder: There is extensive flood damage to the parsonage basement and to the pastor’s personal library. There is some flooding and damage to the church.
• Mountain View United Methodist Church: There is flooding at the church and parsonage.
• Fort Lupton United Methodist Church: There is some water damage in the parsonage basement and the church.
• Burns United Methodist Church: There is flooding in the first floor and the elevator shaft.
Other United Methodist churches reported minor flooding, and as of Sept. 13 afternoon, the conference still had not heard from the Estes Park congregation.
Boswell knew that at least in Boulder, United Methodists planned to worship as always this weekend.
“All three (United Methodist) pastors said that some of their parishioners had been evacuated but were safe, and they were getting their churches ready for worship on Sunday,” Boswell said. “They felt that was really important.”
Strickland, who did not know whether his house would be livable when he returned, said he decided to go ahead with his meeting with Path1 because of the importance of starting new congregations.
“When something like this happens, we all know there will be a future,” he said, “and we need to prepare for that.”
• Give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s U.S. Disaster Response
• Assemble cleaning buckets for UMCOR
• Volunteer at Help Colorado Now, a partnership between the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service and Tanton is executive director of content for United Methodist Communications. Strickland is also a member of United Methodist Communications’ governing board.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.