United Methodists in Holston work long hours to help communities devastated by tornadoes

United Methodists in Holston work long hours to help communities devastated by tornadoes

Updated at 2:15 p.m.

In the weeks after April storms and tornadoes punished the southeast, Holston Conference learned that two more United Methodists had died from injuries, in addition to three lives lost in the Greeneville area.

Meanwhile, as conference leaders hurried to develop a response plan to best serve the Holston region, many local churches and individuals didn't wait but quickly stepped up to help their own communities and friends in need.

A member at Byars-Cobbs United Methodist Church in Glade Spring, Va., Ronnie Offield died after a tornado struck his home in the early hours of April 28. His wife, Brenda Offield, remained hospitalized with critical injuries.

See TriCities.com story: "Local pilot killed in Glade Spring tornado"

A member at Black Fox UMC in Cleveland, Tenn., Robert Smith King died April 27 after attempting to help his family during the storm.

The Johnson City District had previously reported three members lost to the April 27-28 tornadoes: Marty and Brenda Myers and Gene Harrison were members at Mount Tabor UMC in Greene County. (See photo.)


Holston leaders quickly applied for United Methodist Committee on Relief grants and collected needs lists from districts receiving the most storm damage: Abingdon, Cleveland, Chattanooga, Johnson City, and Morristown.

Prior to the April 27-28 storms, the Draper and Pulaski area suffered severe storm damage on April 8. A $10,000 UMCOR grant was sent to the Wytheville District office to begin repairs, according to Anne Travis, Holston director of connectional ministries.

See The Call's story: "Draper and Pulaski shaken by tornadoes"

On May 9, the conference office received a second $10,000 UMCOR grant for storm relief. Four districts will each receive $2,500 portions, Travis said: Abingdon, Cleveland, Chattanooga, and Johnson City.

"The usual guidelines for UMCOR funding are that it is not to be used for church buildings or parsonages or to assist persons with insurance," Travis said.

The conference also established a Call Center on May 9 and began to organize Volunteers in Mission teams (VIM) to provide disaster aid.

The first four VIM teams were directed to the Draper and Pulaski area, Travis said.

"We are continuing to work very closely with Rev. Ty Harrison of First Hillsville UMC, the Rev. Hugh Kilgore of First Pulaski UMC, and the Rev. Maria Grimm of Cripple Creek Circuit to respond to the people of Pulaski and Draper," Travis said. "They are coordinating the Holston response in Wytheville District."

A 12-person team arrived in Draper and Pulaski last week to work on roofing, spoutings, siding, insulation, and drop ceilings, according to Jim Fetzer, Holston disaster response coordinator. "After this week, property projects will be reevaluated to see what remains to be done."


Stories were shared all over the conference -- many in the media -- about help extended and received during the crisis.

At the request of the state's Office of Emergency Management, Emory and Henry College opened its gymnasium as a shelter and services center for residents, emergency workers, and volunteers.

The Rev. Mary K Briggs, chaplain, and the Rev. Tal Stanley, director of the Appalachian Center for Community Service, worked long hours, along with students in the midst of final exams, to help southwest Virginians hurt by the storms. (See photo.)

"Part of our mission is to be a place that helps the community," said Emory and Henry President Rosalind Reichard, who also volunteered to help residents arriving at the college gym for aid.

See TriCities.com story: "Emory & Henry students rescue residents after deadly storm"

Several members from First Marion UMC signed up and received training to help residents in nearby Glade Spring, Chilhowie, and other areas. The Rev. Wil Cantrel, pastor at Lebanon Memorial UMC, took a team to Bethel, Va., an area that seemed largely forgotten, according to Briggs. (See photo.)

Members from Ebenezer UMC of Glade Spring were "one of the first to respond to the needs of infants and small children" in the area, raising $1,400 and sending volunteers to Emory & Henry, according to the Rev. Catherine Sandefur.

In the days following the storm, members from Byars-Cobbs UMC delivered bread, pastries, doughnuts, and Gatorade -- donated by Second Harvest -- to neighbors who were overwhelmed with shattered homes and property. (See photo.)

"We went door to door," said Jerry Ferguson. "Some people looked like they could cry, because they had not stopped to eat or drink all day."

See UMNS story, "Many hands lighten load in tornado recovery"


In the Johnson City District, several United Methodists organized efforts to help the most devastated areas of Greene County.

Munsey Memorial UMC planned a work day in Blackley Creek community on May 11. The Rev. Mark Wills, pastor of Carter's Valley Circuit, helped recruit hundreds of volunteers for the Horse Creek and Camp Creek communities.

The Rev. Randy Frye, Johnson City District superintendent, reported to the Cabinet: "Our partner district, the Czech District of the United Methodist Church, raised $3,250 for the churches in our district damaged by tornadoes."

In the Cleveland District, the response work of Apison UMC and the Rev. Todd Chancey was celebrated in several news articles. 

See WRCBTV.com story: "Tornado challenges faith, faithful to help victims rebuild."

The Rev. Joe Crockett, pastor at Piney Grove UMC, wrote a letter to the Daily Post-Athenian, thanking God for the volunteer spirit of local businesses, neighbors, and members of Keith Memorial UMC and Calhoun UMC, who helped the church clean up storm damage.

"It seems that from time to time, we here in America become complacent about our direction and focus and forget what the meaning and definition of community is," Crockett said. "And then events such as the disaster we all seem to have shared in this past week descend and nudge us awake. We have, I believe, all been touched one way or another."

Trenton UMC continues to be a a "nerve center" for disaster response in the Chattanooga District and beyond, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Christ UMC has also been operating in high gear to help neighbors, said Becky Hall.

"Christ UMC has been a drop-off point for supplies in the Chattanooga District," Hall said. "We have taken supplies to the Apison area and to Trenton. Tyner UMC has taken water and transported most of the water that the district collected to Trenton and Sand Mountain."

Churches and church groups are encouraged to share their own stories and photos by emailing thecall@holston.org.

See also:
"Holston assesses loss, prepares to aid communities after storms" (The Call, 4/28/11)