September 12, 2017
Over the last several days, we have watched the destruction from Hurricane Irma as it traveled through the Caribbean, Cuba, up South Florida, and into Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Here in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, we experienced little or minimal damage. You are always thankful when you seem to dodge the storm, but your heart hurts for all those who are suffering major damage and loss of their home. Some lost their life. Irma and Harvey have been overwhelming experiences for our nation and the church in the last few weeks.
Today, I write to thank this annual conference for all you are doing to help others. You have collected offerings for UMCOR, prepared flood buckets and hygiene kits along with the collection of other supplies to help our neighbors to the west and now you will do it again to help those to our east. Many of our churches have opened their doors as a shelter, a shower station, or a place to receive a hot meal. I am so thankful to be in ministry with you as your Bishop.
I am also thankful for our disaster relief efforts that prepared us for whatever might have come our way this week. Amelia Fletcher and our District Disaster Coordinators have worked overtime to ensure we were ready. Our Connectional Ministries Staff of Nancy Watson, Susan Hunt, and Jen Lusher have worked tirelessly, along with the wonderful work of our Communications Director, Mary Catherine Phillips. Our eight District Superintendents have put in a lot of time contacting pastors and churches, along with coordinating resources in their respective districts. Amelia Fletcher and Rob Haynes have been working closely with UMCOR as needed demands will continue for weeks, days, and months to come. The AWF Conference is so thankful for our working relationship with Cathy Earl, UMCOR Director of Disaster Response. Cathy has been most helpful and is always a joy to partner with.
I am hearing of churches all over this conference who have been working with evacuees as they came to our area. These stories are heartwarming and bless me each time that I hear another glory sighting of people helping people. I spent two days in the Florida part of our conference this past week and the stories of the evacuees were heartbreaking.
I could list so many people here by name. There are so many. I give thanks for each of you in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Thank you!!!
Again, we need to collect an offering for UMCOR and continue the collection of those things that our Disaster Relief Committee requests. Please only do what is asked. Many people want to donate items, but as we saw again in Texas, they are not needed and only become more trash to sort. Teams will be called upon in the future, but right now, please pray for our neighbors to the east and to the west. Your giving to UMCOR is the greatest way you can help right now.
Remember, this is our week to pray for the Way Forward work of the Council of Bishops and the Commission. All local churches who have church bells or chimes are asked to ring them this Wednesday, September 13th from 5:23 to 5:30pm. Let the Church speak all through South Alabama and West Florida this Wednesday.
Alabama-West Florida, you have been a wonderful witness of the powerful connection of the United Methodist Church.
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference