Bishop John Schol took time in the midst of an extraordinarily busy stretch to answer questions about how the Greater New Jersey Conference, which he oversees, is coping with Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy damage and relief efforts. Managing editor Sam Hodges posed the questions and the bishop responded by email.
You reported Nov. 8 that seven parsonages are uninhabitable in the Greater New Jersey Conference are uninhabitable. How are you taking care of thos pastors and their families?Evaluation of parsonage damage continues. Pastors have been displaced. One pastor is using the second floor while the first floor has sustained damage.
Pastors and their families are relocated and living in new housing. Pastoral care for the families is provided by the district superintendent, bishop and out pouring of support from the surrounding area clergy. Necessities, clothing, food, etc., and spiritual support have been provided.
Are any church buildings out of commission due to flooding? If not, can you share the names of one or two that are badly damaged?
Macedonia UMC in Ocean City. First UMC Belmar. Kynett UMC in Beach Haven Terrace. Over 12-15 churches are without electricity. There have been other types of damage, not flooding, but trees through education buildings, roof damage etc.
Are you any closer to an overall damage figure to church properties?
A number of churches throughout the conference have sustained damage from flooding and downed trees. We continue to conduct a full inventory and should have a number by the end of the week.
I gather that more than one UM church in GNJ has become important as a base for relief efforts. Would you share an example?
Over 70 churches are involved in relief efforts. There has been a great groundswell of hospitality and ministry from our local churches across the state. Many congregations have opened their doors to provide housing, food, supplies, clothing, a warm place to be, an opportunity to charge electronics, as well as pastoral care and relief work. We have seen our churches serve centers of community life in urban areas as well as in suburban and coastal locations.
Caldwell UMC in Caldwell served as a warm place for hospitality, food, charging, etc for a week after the storm. They opened their doors up to a local synagogue for Shabbat services on Saturday.
Park UMC in Bloomfield, served as an overnight shelter, day shelter and provided food for some 600 people, using 150 volunteers.
UMC in Union City, an Hispanic congregation, collected food to distribute to local residents, as the town grocery store’s shelves were almost completely empty for two weeks.
Lacey UMC in Forked River has become a holistic rescue, relief and service center for a large surrounding area. They are hosting 30 individuals overnight and have been serving around 2,000 hot meals a day, 1,300 of them being delivered to homes and other locations. The entire church is serving as a food pantry, a clothing depot, and a public kitchen, where anyone can get 3 hot meals a day. Many major businesses in the area have been donating food, supplies and money to the church to support their efforts. They have also been training volunteers to go out in teams and support residents through remedial work to remove water, or initialize cleanup efforts.
Morrow Memorial UMC in Maplewood has served up to 600 people a day as a day shelter and community center, with designated space for work, socializing, children, youth and families. Hot meals were provided throughout the day and extra food was distributed to different churches and neighborhoods in Newark and Union City.
Manasquan UMC in Manasquan is serving daily meals and has become a clothing closet.
St. John’s UMC in Hazlet became a “staging area” for supplies and resources so those who were helping others had a central place to find what they needed
St. Paul’s UMC in Bay Head has become a main community hub for food, clothing, and more. It’s serving three meals a day, every day. People from around the world have been reaching out to them to help.
Atlantic Highlands UMC in Atlantic Highlands has been dubbed the “moving Mini-Mart” because they have been delivering coffee and food items in cars to the hard hit areas.
FUMC Keansburg is where the local police department has been operating out of their church because their building was damaged
Middletown UMC has become a major staging area for the initial disaster response deliveries from UMCOR/Mission Central
Oasis UMC in Pleasantville is serving food, providing clothing, portable heaters and more.
What will the focus of the GNJ Sandy Fund be, and how much have you raised?
We have raised $131,000 through 40 individuals for GNJ Sandy Relief so far. It is just getting started. Church contributions will begin to come in during November.
The Greater New Jersey United Methodist Response will focus on four areas:
- Relief – We meet immediate human needs by focusing on shelter, food, clothing immediately following a disaster. Immediately following Storm Sandy, we have been providing day and overnight shelter, including feeding programs and clothing for several thousand people.
- Repair – We work with community residents, non-profit organizations, churches, and local, state and federal agencies to assess damage and work to repair homes, particularly for the elderly and poor whose insurance and other agency support does not cover all of the damages. We utilize thousands of trained volunteers under the supervision of professionals to repair homes and renew people’s lives.
- Rebuild – Bringing a sense of normalcy involves more than hammers and nails. It is community building. We provide case management and community building strategies to develop community leadership and strengthen community organizations. This may also include repairing community centers, churches and non-profit organizations.
- Renew – One of the harshest results of Superstorm Sandy will be the emotional and spiritual toll it has on people’s lives. We will provide counseling for several years to help children, youth, parents/adults renew their hope and faith for the future.
We have draft goals for relief work, to be firmed up this week.
- Repair 200 homes damaged by the Superstorm Sandy focusing on the elderly and low income families where there are not sufficient resources to complete repairs
- Distribute 10,000 flood buckets to clean flooded homes
- Distribute 1000 medical kits to families
- Provide day and/or night shelter for 3000 people
- Distribute food, clothing and basic supplies to 5000 people
- Provide case management for 300 individuals and families to help them access the necessary resources and information for people impacted by the storm
- Provide trauma counseling and support for 500 people impacted by the storm
- Recruit, train and coordinate 10,000 volunteers over three years from New Jersey and across the country to repair homes and staff programs for children, youth and their families
Are you encouraging folks to give to that instead of to UMCOR, or in addition to UMCOR?
We are encouraging churches outside of NJ to give to the Advance. The GNJ Sandy Relief Fund is a designated fund for individuals, churches and businesses within the bounds of the GNJAC to support our recovery efforts by giving directly to the conference office, without delay. UMCOR through The Advance will provide much needed support from outside of the GNJAC. Both giving channels assure that 100% of each gift will go to its designated area of mission or ministry.
Any particular images that have stuck with you as you’ve toured damaged areas?
I learned that my ninth grade high school English teacher who is in her 80’s who retired in NJ found herself in a shelter with 145 other people.
I toured parsonages with clergy families and saw and experienced the deep pain of losing much and trying to lead a congregation that has been evacuated.
I ran into a United Methodist couple who had just been married and were volunteering at a shelter with more than 900 people
I met with Drew students who were in one of our church shelters and saw how appreciative they were because while most students went home, these students from Korea, Africa and the West Coast could not get home. I heard how grateful they were for all the church was doing.
Any particular prayer or Bible verse you’ve found yourself sharing with hurting folks?
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“When you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me” – Matthew 25:40
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I fear” – Psalm 27:1
Has this catastrophe set back your leadership plans for the GNJ Conference?
While Super Storm Sandy took away many homes, jobs and a sense of normalcy across the state, the response of our churches, clergy and laity have been tremendously inspiring. The ways in which we have already begun to work together in teams throughout the conference are solidifying relationships, building trust and offering space for us to be in prayer with one another.
GNJ is a strong conference with highly gifted lay and clergy leadership who are responding with great courage. Other leaders are also stepping up and the conference is still moving forward with a strategic ministry planning effort, starting a new Hispanic congregation in a flooded area, raising funds for Imagine No Malaria, building a new urban garden at the Camden Neighborhood Center (started by deaconesses 100 years ago). Grace Korean Church that just celebrated its 35th anniversary whose building power did not come on until this past Friday has broken ground for a new community/education center. We move forward this month with starting six new breakfast ministries to serve the homeless and low income people and we continue planning for a bishop’s retreat in January and planning for the 2013 annual conference session, etc.
Did Sandy impact our ministry? Yes. Will it stop us? No. Working together for the sake of others has helped forge relationships and brought us to live together in a sense of trust and purpose, following God’s leading. With God’s help and the support of the connection we will come back stronger as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.