Tuesday, May 3, 2011

St. John's UMC responds to storms and flooding with 'a whirlwind of love'

Flooding in Memphis, Tennessee.  Photo by J. Collins Dillard

By Lane Gardner Camp*


As weather emergencies have been taking place throughout the Memphis Conference all during April and now into May, churches are reacting and responding in many ways.

St. John’s UMC in midtown Memphis is seeing and feeling the effects in its neighborhood and throughout the city as waters rise from the nearby Mississippi River.

“When disaster happens, whatever form it takes, we tend to feel helpless, like we just want to do something to help. But we also know that there are specially trained responders who need to assess the situation and make a plan for what help is needed and how to provide it, said Renee Dillard, Associate Minister of Discipleship Ministries at St. John’s.

On Sunday, May 1, members of St. John’s decided to help in the way it thought was “best” at the time, said Renee – by making donations to Advance #3021326 (U.S. Spring Storms 2011) of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the global humanitarian aid organization of The United Methodist Church.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we hope to put our hands and feet to work helping to rebuild, but supporting UMCOR was the best way we could immediately begin helping our neighbors," said Renee.

“Be a Whirlwind of Love” is the theme St. John’s chose to communicate its caring, concern and action.

St. John’s member and artist-photographer J. Collins Dillard, Renee's husband, created artwork to illustrate the theme and is offering the art to other churches who might want to use it. (Contact Collins at heroboyjr@earthlink.net.)

“This started as a prayer for Alabama and the tornado victims," said Collins, "but quickly became more broad in meaning when the waters (from the Mississippi River) became so dangerously high.”

Renee called Collins' art “a powerful image” and expressed hope that other churches might use it to “encourage support for storm relief.”

Collins said the idea for the theme and art hit him during the night.

Knowing that Christians must respond with love to the “unimaginable pain” and “devastating loss” from recent storms, he said he was reminded of the words “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm” from verse 1:3 of the Old Testament Book of Nahum.

“To justify destruction in God’s name,” Collins said some people take the verse out of context.

“We, of course, know God is present in the recovery and healing. God is not the violence of destruction," he said.

St. John's created a "focal point" table for its May 1 worship service by combining Collins' art in poster form with a three-dimensional sculpture, also created by Collins, that conveyed the same image and message.

"Members were invited to pause at the table (after receiving Holy Communion) to offer a prayer for storm victims and those who are responding to the needs all around us, and then to place a small (paper) heart at the base of the sculpture," explained Renee.

Placing the heart was "an act of hope, an act of prayer, a tangible way to demonstrate our trust in a loving God who is working to bring healing and wholeness out of this chaos and despair," she said.

"We will now live into God’s purpose by being a 'whirlwind of love' through prayer, giving and service," added Renee.

*By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Annual Conference.

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