Church focuses on human needs

Editor’s note: Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner, on behalf of the Indiana Conference, sent checks for $2,000 each to the Greater New Jersey Conference and the New York Conference for disaster relief.

OCEAN, N.J. (UMNS) — The widespread effects of Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey have made it difficult for United Methodists to assess immediately the needs of churches and communities, said Bishop John Schol, Greater New Jersey Conference.

“Our main challenge is 2.4 million people without electricity,” the bishop told United Methodist News Service in early November. “Everything is down.”

Another challenge is reaching communities by car with fallen trees littering the roads, but Schol has managed to visit churches in northern and central parts of the state and planned to meet with pastors and tour shelters and disaster sites in South Jersey.

“A lot of our concern right now is the human needs: shelter for people, food, providing support and counseling,” he said. “We are making grants available to churches and community organizations engaged in immediate human-needs response.”

Chatham United Methodist Church, for example, has provided 100 displaced Drew University students with a place to sleep, hot meals and “electricity to charge up their electronics to call home and do homework.” Morrow Memorial UMC in Maplewood also has opened its doors to the community.

Report of death but no details

Schol said he had received one report of a United Methodist death in the northern part of the conference Oct. 31 but had no details. Most of the New Jersey deaths from Sandy are related to falling trees, he noted.

The three hardest-hit districts were Cape Atlantic, Northern Shore and Gateway North, all along the Jersey Shore. “We know there is significant damage and challenges in the other districts as well,” Schol said in a letter to his conference.

Although district superintendents are working with clergy on initial needs assessments, “getting good, accurate reports is very difficult right now,” the bishop acknowledged.

That is particularly true of the areas along the Jersey shore hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.

“Nobody’s been able to go back into Atlantic City,” Schol said. “We just assume that all of our churches in the barrier islands are under water.”

Atlantic City sustained major damage, with 70 percent to 80 percent of the city underwater as of Oct. 30, The New York Times reported. A small stretch of the city’s famous boardwalk was washed out, but is undamaged in the main tourist areas, tourism officials said. Aerial photography has documented the hurricane devastation to the barrier islands of Ocean County, along the Jersey Shore.

One brighter spot is Ocean Grove – not far from Asbury Park and the episcopal residence in Eatontown – which Schol toured Oct. 30. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, founded in 1869, is an independent United Methodist-related ministry organization that offers a program of preaching, teaching and celebration.

“Their beachheads and their boardwalks took the brunt of the storm, in terms of water,” he reported. “Ocean Grove had damage to the Great Auditorium on the roof, but many of the homes did okay. They just had big piles of sand in the street.”

Toppled trees, gas shortages

The hurricane toppled mature trees 50 feet to 70 feet tall in many communities, including his own, blocking roads and taking down power lines. In some areas, gasoline is in short supply.

The bishop said they were heartened by emails of support and prayer from across the church, a blessing of the connectional system. Those with hurricane recovery experience from Mississippi and Louisiana already are reaching out. “We’re going to want to work with them to really learn from their experiences about how best to move forward,” he noted.

Greater New Jersey Conference officials are creating a disaster response plan in cooperation with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), faith-based groups and municipal and state government officials, Schol said.

The conference is not yet ready to receive volunteers for disaster assistance, but as Schol has toured New Jersey, he has witnessed the church already at work.

“I saw Jesus,” he wrote in a pastoral letter, “walking around New Jersey and parts of New York. I saw the pastors and laity of several of our churches, who have opened their doors to house people and to be a community center in the midst of the storm and aftermath. Talk about open hearts, open minds and open doors. These laity and clergy became the heart, the mind and the door to Christ.

“I’m just so pleased and grateful for the creativity, the wisdom and the determination of the people here in this conference,” Schol told UMNS. They’re really doing a great job in these initial days.”

Linda Bloom serves as a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York, and a native of Fort Wayne, Ind.

New Jersey flooding
Residents encountered flooded streets in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Photo by Chris Heckert

How Hoosiers can help recovery efforts

Hoosier United Methodists need to direct donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief through Hurricane 2012 Advance #3021787. Donations can be made online at www.umcor.org or by calling 800-554-8583.

Checks payable to Indiana Conference UMC, with Hurricane 2012 noted on the memo line, can be dropped in church offering plates. Indiana church treasurers need to mail Hurricane 2012 (Advance #3021787) contributions to INUMC, Dept. 6089, Carol Stream, IL 60122-6089.

You can also text the word RESPONSE to 80888 to give an immediate $10 donation.

One-hundred percent of UMCOR funds are used for humanitarian relief and are NOT applied to church property damage.