The Blame Game

There is a blame game being played, and
perhaps it’s necessary to see how things broke down at the national level. But,
at the local level what impresses me is how quickly and effectively local
churches got organized and received evacuees. From all that I have seen that
was a remarkable amount of work under the most difficult circumstances

Jerry Bean, superintendent of the Gulfport District of The United Methodist Church is loading an 18-wheel truck trailer as we pull into the driveway of Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The volunteer shelter manager in Central UMC, Meridian explains that more than 500 people have come through the church’s shelter in the past 12 days. The church turned its brand-new educational wing into a two-part shelter area. One observer notes they didn’t question the potential wear on the new carpets and other furnishings, they just did what they had to do.

At Broadmoor United Methodist in Baton Rouge, the flood of people puts a strain on the building’s plumbing and challenges the custodial crew with constant repairs and cleaning.

In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, near the eye of the storm’s worst damage, an evacuee tells me the Rev. Bobby C. McGill of Valena C. Jones Memorial UMC, got her assistance when no one else was on the ground to help.

Meridian Central’s Senior Paster James M. Harrison, told the full house on Sunday morning that they had served more than 21,000 meals in the past week. He spoke on the importance of relationship, telling his flock that undergirding the church’s efforts to help evacuees, most of whom are from New Orleans, is a biblical understanding of the importance of relationships. The church doesn’t seek to merely provide shelter, it seeks a relationship with those who are experiencing dislocation and grief.

The shelter for Red Cross workers at Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge fills the church’s gymnasium and much of its classrooms. The Red Cross volunteers have posted thank you notes on the walls around the church and they readily tell us of the care they are receiving from Broadmoor as if they are themselves being nurtured.

Bishops in both annual conferences are meeting with pastors and other church leaders frequently for strategy sessions and assessment. A meticulous survey is being conducted by both–Bishop William Hutchinson of Lousiana and Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi–to determine the well-being of their pastors, local churches and communities. Both are looking at daily needs as well as near-term recovery and long-term rehabilitation. My overwhelming impression is that these two conferences are nothing if not “methodical.” They give a fresh insight to the name United Methodist.

In addition to a full-service distribution and feeding station, Trinity UMC in Gulfport set up satellite equipment in the parking lot with a wireless modem so that storm-affected persons can access the Internet to send email, search for missing family members and file claims with FEMA. It’s a free wireless hot spot.

After 14 days, an evacuee in Bay St. Louis, close to the eye of the storm, still hasn’t been in contact with some family members and is concerned that some may not have survived. Before FEMA arrived, she says, local church leaders such as Rev. Jones were already providing assistance and advocating for persons who had lost everything. She says it is the church that has gotten her through this tragedy.

In five days travel through the most severely affected area, this is the story–communities being formed from the rubble of broken and destroyed communities. I didn’t hear one word of criticism or blame from either victims or those serving them. I heard painful stories, wept a few tears with those whose nerves are on edge and whose lives have been utterly disrupted, heard remarkable words of strength and even of hope in these trying times. We celebrated the reality of communities of faith serving people faithfully and selflessly. No one here is playing a blame game, they’re too busy with other things.

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