By Sam Hodges*
“What they’re asking is, `Will you go with us as we go out and volunteer in the community.’ That’s probably the dominant message from churches in the affected areas.” —Laurie Day, Rocky Mountain Annual Conference assistant director of mission and ministry.
As soon as television news coverage made clear just how bad some communities were getting hit by the recent, historic flooding in Colorado, the Rev. Bradley Laurvick began planning how his church, Highlands United Methodist of Denver, could help.
He first checked the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) website for what goes in a cleaning bucket. Then he sent an email blast to church members and posted on Facebook and two neighborhood websites, asking for those items.
Highlands is small, averaging around 90 in worship. But with nearly all of those contributing — as well as others in the neighborhood — the church assembled 50 buckets. Laurvick called it a “loaves and fishes” result, nearly doubling the original goal.
With a transportation assist from Park Hill United Methodist Church of Denver, the buckets had arrived at the Red Cross center in hard-hit Estes Park by last Saturday morning.
“The idea of going to serve and tending to people’s needs is what I hear Jesus asking of us,” Laurvick said. “I also find great motivation in the words of Paul, that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer.”
The United Methodist Church is preparing for a long-term effort in disaster relief in Colorado, including sending in emergency response teams to help with debris removal. Already, individuals and churches are on the case.
UMCOR has moved in two shipments of supplies, providing 900 cleaning buckets and 2,000 health kits, and given a $10,000 grant for Rocky Mountain Annual (regional) Conference flood relief efforts.
One United Methodist church, Longs Peak in Longmont – a town which had its share of damage – has become a dispatch point for buckets that individual churches have assembled.
“They go out as fast as they come in,” said the Rev. Stephanie Kidwell, pastor at Longs Peak.
Longs Peak staff member Emily Kintzel and her family have been helping with the church efforts, though they were evacuated from their Longmont home for a time and still face replacing ruined carpeting and drywall on their first floor.
“There’s always a need to respond to, and as a church it’s our responsibility to do that,” said Kintzel, director of youth and young adult ministries at Longs Peak.
Hope United Methodist Church of Greenwood Village, has joined the bucket brigade, delivering about 75 to Longs Peak, including 33 prepared by young people.
“We are grateful to be in a position to journey with those in need,” said the Rev. Don Bird, lead pastor at Hope.
Meanwhile, Columbine United Church in Columbine, affiliated with the United Methodist Church as well as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and United Church of Christ, delivered more than 80 buckets and 200 hygiene kits to Estes Park. The congregation followed up the next day by taking 40 cleaning buckets to Longs Peak.
“We had so many people bringing things,” said Barbara Rudolf, the church’s volunteer coordinator. “People were so awesome.”
The power of love
Four United Methodist clergywomen arranged to be in Lyons, on Thursday, Sept. 19 to counsel with residents who were returning after evacuation to get a first look at how badly damaged their homes were.
“Seeing their lives upside down and the river literally moved…was a humbling reminder of the ways our lives are never our own…nothing is guaranteed except God’s love shown through the power of how we love one another, especially when life is hard,” said the Rev. Pam Everhart of Niwot United Methodist Church in Longmont, one of the pastors visiting in Lyons.
Emily Flemming, recently-appointed local pastor of Lyons Community (United Methodist) Church, also was part of the team.
“We stayed together in groups of two, wading through water, slushing through mud and traversing unstable bridges,” emailed Flemming, who with her family was evacuated from Lyons. “I saw two of my parishioners wading through knee-deep, swift-rushing water (which used to be a street) in order to get to their home, assess damages and remove their personal items.”
She said Lyons Community Church will have services in its building Sunday morning for the first time since the floods.
“Say a little prayer for us.”
A church `buddy system’
The Rocky Mountain Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church has created what it is calling an Ambassadors of Love program, pairing United Methodist churches in badly affected areas with those in areas that came through relatively unscathed.
“It’s a buddy system,” said Youngsook Kang, conference director of mission and ministry.
The better-off churches are encouraged to pray for and visit their partners, but the real goal is more outward focused.
“What they’re asking is, `Will you go with us as we go out and volunteer in the community,’” said Laurie Day, conference assistant director of mission and ministry. “That’s probably the dominant message from churches in the affected areas.”
The Rev. Elizabeth McVicker, congregational care pastor of First United Methodist in Cheyenne, Wyo., said one of the church’s members was particularly excited to be partnering with Rinn United Methodist in Frederick, Colo.
“One of older members told me that in 1977 his mother died and on the way to make the arrangements, he hit a major snowstorm,” she said. “The roads were closed and he was stranded. The Rinn UMC opened its doors and he stayed the night. Every time he drives by, he reminds his wife of their hospitality. What a joy to be able to return the grace.”
One institution that’s part of the Ambassadors program is not a church. Frasier Meadows is a United Methodist-affiliated retirement community in Boulder that was badly damaged in the floods and had to relocate 74 residents.
Arvada United Methodist is Frasier Meadows partner in the program. But Frasier has turned for help to nearby Mountain View United Methodist Church, itself badly damaged in the floods. Frasier Meadows staff members are parking at Mountain View, since Frasier’s parking lots are out of commission.
“The Methodist church, being right across the street, has been able to provide us with a lot of that (parking) assistance,” said Tim Johnson, who is the Frasier Meadows top executive.
`Sense of connectedness’
The Rev. Gary Haddock, who leads disaster response for the Rocky Mountain Conference, toured both Mountain View and Frasier Meadows last Friday as well as other affected Methodist sites.
He said many of the people he spoke with still are shook up, given how unexpected, fast and far-reaching the flooding was. But he also witnessed resolve among United Methodists to be in the thick of the recovery.
“It’s just amazing the way people have responded,” he said. “They want to help, and they’re going out of their way to help. There’s a great sense of connectedness and a great desire to be of service in God’s honor.”
Haddock said a meeting Friday, Sept. 27 should establish when United Methodist early response teams can start helping with debris removal in badly affected areas.
He said the Rev. Nancy Boswell, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Fort Collins, will be working fulltime on relief coordination for two weeks beginning Monday.
Haddock will take over for her Oct. 13, doing his own two-week stint. His congregation at Community United Methodist Church in Ogden, Utah, supported giving him that time in the Denver area.
“I’m very proud of them for being willing to loan me out,” he said.
*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.