Faith groups unite in NC response effort

BY SUSAN KIM | GREENVILLE, N.C. | February 9, 2000

GREENVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 9, 2000) -- As leaders of the faith community

gathered to discuss ongoing recovery from the devastation in eastern

North Carolina wrought by Hurricane Floyd, the Rev. Sidney Locks

shared his recollection of the hours after the floodwaters rose.

"We gathered up the congregational leaders and, since the power was

out, we met by candlelight to decide what to do. The first thing we

understood was that people needed food right away."

So the Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church fed up to 1,300 people a

day for five days.

Then people needed water, clothes, toothbrushes, toys for their

children. So the church began to collect and distribute those items.

The needs kept growing, and so did the church's response. "Whatever

folks needed, they could stop by the local church. There was a spirit

moving in this community," said Locks.

The needs still haven't disappeared -- but neither has the spirit of

neighbor helpingneighbor, as evidenced by a gathering of faith group

leaders at the church on Feb. 8.

Coordinated through the Office of Rural Outreach of the Duke

Endowment, Catholic Social Ministries in the Diocese of Raleigh, and

Communities of Faith in the North Carolina Rural Center, the meeting

drew 13 different denominations, countless compelling personal

accounts, and creative solutions to a disaster recovery that is

expected to last several years.

If a single local church can help hundreds of people, imagine what

could happen if churches came together in a spirit of faith, Locks

said. Together, hey could find out who really needs help, identify

useful resources and funding, and forge lasting partnerships within

the wider community and state.

The Rev. W. Joseph Mann, director of the Office of Rural Church with

the Duke Endowment, is ready to make those partnerships a reality.

The Duke Endowment has made $6 million available to the state for

disaster recovery, channeled through nonprofit hospitals, childcare

agencies, and the United Methodist Church. "Churches and faith-based

recovery groups can partner with any of these," he said.

Fred Gervasi, director of housing and community development for the

McAuley Institute, a faith-based housing development agency, also

came to the meeting looking for a few good partnerships. McAuley said

he was on the lookout for emerging community development groups that

need assistance. "Disaster simply reinforces housing as an issue," he

said, "so I see this as an opportunity for churches to think about

community development."

Faith leaders also took some time to forge more informal partnerships

with each other, often with simple communication across the table.

After taking some quiet time for personal reflection, participants

tried to define the most pressing needs in their state, decide how

the church could respond collaboratively.

Bob Arnold, associate director of Church World Service's emergency

response program, said he would like to see more disaster response

training for churches on a local level. "There is a necessity for

good training for caseworkers from the local community affected by

the disaster. But one of the major problems is that congregations,

clergy, and lay leadership just don't see the church as a disaster

response organization."

Faith leaders agreed to tackle large and challenging disaster

recovery issues -- including sensitizing congregations to the nature

of the need, creating safe spaces where people are comfortable

sharing those needs, ministering to non-English speaking people, and

equitably distributing help, especially to people who need more than

federal disaster aid can offer.

George Strunk, Lutheran Disaster Response coordinator for eastern

North Carolina, said he wants interfaith groups and churches to

better coordinate volunteers and to make themselves more visible

within the community. "Most of all, we have to keep the spirit

cohesive," he said.

The collective mood seemed to be just that. The North Carolina

Interfaith Disaster Response offered its database of volunteers for

all to use. World Vision offered a videotape depicting flood recovery.

As the meeting went on, conversations became more animated,

punctuated with nods of understanding, and often the exchange of

names and phone numbers.

Kathleen Walsh, diocesan director for Catholic Social Ministries in

the Diocese of Raleigh, said that this initial meeting was only a

first step. "This is a way to lead us to further communication," she


Diana Jones-Wilson, director of Communities of Faith for the North

Carolina Rural Center, agreed the gathering represented just the

beginning of an ongoing dialogue. "This is a starting point for us

that is very significant. We've come together to share what we think

are the critical needs for the long haul."

Meeting people's post-disaster needs is not just a calling for

churches -- but an opportunity, said the Rev. Mr. Gerald A. Collins,

director of disaster response for Catholic Charities USA. "Now is the

time to seize the opportunity Floyd has given you. You have a chance

to do some wondrous things in North Carolina," he told the group.

Many said they were acutely aware that how churches respond now will

shape response -- and people's trust in the church's ability to

respond -- for a long time to come.

As Jones-Wilson said, "The true burden of what has happened has

fallen upon the church. Somewhere, without our control, there will be

a need for us to be equipped to respond again."

Posted Feb. 9, 2000

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