UM clergy take leaders' roles in long-term recovery effort


By the Advocate

With most of the Hurricane Katrina relief work done or nearing completion, attention is turning toward the long process of recovery.

United Methodist individuals and churches are among those taking leadership roles helping their communities through the recovery process that could take as long as five years, according to some estimates.

In Southwest Mississippi, St. Andrew’s Mission in McComb will serve as the fiscal leader for the Southwest Mississippi Recovery Network covering Pike, Walthall, Lincoln, Lawrence and Amite counties. The Rev. Judy Sibley is director of St. Andrew’s.

To the northeast, the Rev. Roy Pearson, pastor at West Laurel UMC, has agreed to serve as chair of Pine Belt Restoration, Inc., which will serve Jones, Wayne, Smith and Jasper counties.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward praised United Methodists who are getting involved in such roles.

“We are people of a collaborative spirit, always looking for partners in God’s good work,” she said. “The collaboration in Laurel and McComb are excellent examples of The United Methodist Church at its best. We look forward to broad partnerships such as these. These partnerships can garner resources and carry us forward to recovery.”

Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 and has been called the worst natural disaster in United States history. The storm killed 1,383 people, including 236 in Mississippi, and did an estimated $75 billion in damage.

Five United Methodist churches and one parsonage sustained catastrophic damage in the storm, while another 17 churches and 13 parsonages suffered major damage. Twenty-eight pastors’ homes were rendered uninhabitable. Gulfside Assembly was leveled. Seashore Assembly and Moore Community House in Biloxi sustained major damage. Numerous churches in the southern part of the state sustained at least some damage.

Pearson and Sibley said faith-based groups have been instrumental in moving the relief and recovery process along. They have emphasized the important of inter-faith cooperation. However, they also have cited the United Methodist connection as being vital.

“I don’t believe I could do it without the connection,” Pearson said. “I know I can rely on people from all over the nation. The majority of help we’ve received in this area has been from United Methodist churches.”

Ward cited the words of John Wesley: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.”