Pastoral Letter on Harrisburg Tornado
Beloved in Christ Jesus:
Like many of you, I was awakened yesterday morning with the news that our sisters and brothers in Southern Illinois are once again dealing with the aftermath of another weather-related disaster.
Tornados cut across the southern Illinois region leaving a path of destruction to the community of Harrisburg. As we watch developments on television, our hearts ache, knowing that we are called to respond.
Although the news from Harrisburg and the surrounding area keeps unfolding, six have been confirmed dead, including an on-duty nurse at the Harrisburg Medical Center; 100 were treated for injuries; nearly 300 homes have been damaged or destroyed and 25 businesses have sustained damage or are completely destroyed in this community.
The tornado has also touched the Harrisburg First UMC, as several have lost their homes.
At my direction yesterday, Cache River District Superintendent Roger Russell, in coordination with the Conference Offices of Connectional Ministries and Communications, is directing our Conference's response. Our team is monitoring developments and communicating ways in which we can be of assistance in cleanup and recovery.
Rev. Russell has asked Rev. Pete Ryan, pastor of Joppa-Oak Grove UMC's and Rev. Ed Hoke, pastor of Herrin UMC, to serve as the Cache River District coordinators for this effort. I have already been in contact with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which remains on standby to assist the conference.
Harrisburg First UMC has taken the initiative to be a disaster response center and is providing a vibrant and healing presence to a community still dealing with the shock and trauma from a disaster of this magnitude. And the Office of Pastoral Care and Counseling is working with Harrisburg First UMC to put into place a support network for spiritual care for the community and the region.
While assessments are being done, there are several things for which United Methodists can do:
- Pray for the people of Southern Illinois. Above every thing else, we can uphold our sisters and brothers, knowing that in these times where our faith is tested, God is the nearest.
- Take up an offering for the Conference Disaster Relief Fund, Conference Advance Special 6800. These funds will be invaluable in the days and weeks ahead as we respond.
- Contribute to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. This Special Sunday offering, which will be taken in IGRC churches on March 18, helps pay the administrative overhead that enables UMCOR to respond and allows for 100 percent of your giving to go to the designated area of need.
- Collect supplies for the various kits provided by the Midwest Mission Distribution Center. These supplies will replenish the MMDC inventory so that it will be ready to respond to the next disaster. You can get the list of supplies from the hyperlinks above.
- Participate in Early Response Training. If you feel God is calling you to this ministry of disaster response, consider getting trained. Ironically, a training event was already scheduled in Harrisburg on March 17 with a second training event slated for Kewanee on April 14.
- Consider assembling a team to assist in the rebuilding. There will be need for persons who have construction, plumbing and electrical skills. But there will also be ways in which folks with other skills and talents can lend a hand. A team of eight from Marion that have undergone Early Response Training are already positioned to respond. We will need to be able to respond as soon as assessments are completed. Contact IGRC ERT Coordinator Steve Schoeffel or Christy Blickensderfer in the Conference Center at 217-529-2473, to see where you can connect. Steve will be staging the Early Response Teams and will be working with Rev. Pete Ryan and Rev. Ed Hoke to deploy those teams where they are needed.
It is in these times that the people called United Methodists are at their best, providing a ministry of presence and offering care and compassion for those in need. Let's do our part!
Your servant in Christ Jesus,
Gregory Vaughn Palmer