Rescued table unites Mississippi, Kansas churches


By Susan Cooper


Fairview United Methodist Church, near Nickerson, Kan., recently consecrated a new Communion table rescued from the Hurricane Katrina-damaged chapel of Eastlawn United Methodist Church in Pascagoula.

Although Eastlawn sustained considerable damage from the hurricane, the church served as a base of operations for volunteers helping storm survivors.

 On Sept. 7, a team of volunteers from the Hutchinson District of the Kansas West Conference brought the district’s hot food preparation trailer to Pascagoula to serve meals to hurricane survivors and volunteers. Headed by Hutchinson District disaster response co-coordinator Arlen “Butch” Proffitt, the group set up the trailer in Eastlawn’s parking lot. A rotating team of volunteers from Kansas served approximately 40,000 meals from the trailer through the second week of November.

Proffitt’s wife, Nancy, is serving as a local pastor at Fairview UMC, and the congregation wanted to get a communion table. While in Pascagoula, he decided to bring back with him a storm-damaged table that had been in the Eastlawn chapel.

“I wanted something that would be visible to the congregation every time they are in the sanctuary to remind them of the outreach they did to people they did not know — to show the way to being the ‘united’ part of The United Methodist Church,” he said.

Dwayne Windham, associate pastor at Eastlawn, gave his blessing to Proffitt’s effort to save the table, glad that something would be salvaged from the chapel. But during the trip to Kansas, the wet and muddy table’s glue joints gave way and some of the boards split.

Undeterred, members of the Fairview congregation set to work restoring the table. Vicky McFarland enlisted the help of her brother, Dennis Neuenschwander, to rebuild the table. Donna Mitzner, church pianist, bought velvet material from the memorial funds for her father, Floyd Heyen, who had passed away just before the volunteers went to Pascagoula. She and her daughter, Linda Mitzner, sewed panels from the velvet and put them into the table.

When Proffitt went back to Pascagoula to help bring the trailer back to Kansas, he showed photos of the restored table to Windham, who couldn’t believe it was the same table.

“Dwayne was very happy that something good came out of all of the destruction and that the people of Eastlawn and of Fairview would always be connected because of this table and the outpouring of kindness that was shown,” Proffitt said.

Windham told Proffitt that the people of Eastlawn and all of Pascagoula are grateful for the kindness and generosity shown by the people of Kansas.

Since four Fairview members had served as hot food trailer volunteers in Pascagoula, the congregation was familiar with the situation and had seen pictures of the devastation. But Proffitt has seen church members simply stare at the table and shake their heads.

“They can still see the discoloration of the wood, the splitting and the warping caused by the salt water,” he said. “This table is a tangible link between them and the people of Pascagoula — people they reached out to and helped in their time of greatest need. They have told me many times since our return that they did not think that a small Kansas country church could make such a big difference in the lives of people they did not know.”

Cooper is a marketing and communications assistant in the Kansas West Conference of The United Methodist Church.