United Methodists Give Generously For Tragic Cause
By Annette Bender
It's routine for year-end apportionment checks to clog the conference mail in early January. It's not routine for an earthquake and tsunami to claim the lives of some 150,000 people while leaving millions homeless.
Mixed in with the 2004 apportionment checks that were due by Jan. 7, checks for tsunami victims began to arrive immediately after the Dec. 26 catastrophe in Asia and Africa, according to accounts receivable staff member Kristi Willocks.
Willocks also began to receive telephone calls from church treasurers, asking how to give to tsunami victims through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The standard answer is to make checks to local churches, designating "tsunami disaster relief" on the memo line. That way, local churches receive conference credit for giving to missions, Willocks said. But it's also possible to give directly to UMCOR via credit-card donations. (See "How to give.") "One woman called and said she wanted to write a check, but she didn't have a local church," Willocks said. "I told her to send the check to the conference office, and we would make sure it got to UMCOR." All UMCOR donations are sent monthly to the agency's headquarters in New York City.
Every dollar given to UMCOR, the church's relief agency, goes directly to aid for the affected region, United Methodist officials claim. For more than 60 years, UMCOR has worked in partnership with a number of agencies in nearly 100 countries during humanitarian crises.
One of the first congregations to give to the effort was Sinking Springs United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge District. The congregation with 45 to 50 in average worship attendance mailed in a check for $5,480, the largest known amount donated by a Holston church as of Jan. 5. The money came from a $480 special offering collected on Sunday, Jan. 2, according to the Rev. Lisa Stone. A committee also voted to give an additional $5,000 from a special fund. "They respond with compassion when given the opportunity," Stone said, referring to her congregation.
New Salem UMC, a Maryville District church with 75 to 80 in average worship attendance, mailed in a $1,000 check.
After the Dec. 26 tragedy, the Rev. Steve Tuck said that he told his congregation, "There is a need, and we as a church need to respond immediately." The church council called a special meeting on Jan. 2 and voted to immediately send $1,000 for UMCOR.
"I thought that was the least we could do," Tuck said. "We're going to take special offerings over the next year - or for as long as it takes. I hope that other Holston Conference churches will do the same."
"People are in dire straights," the New Salem pastor added. "This is our opportunity, as a church, to put our money where our mouth is."
As of Jan. 6, about 30 Holston congregations had donated a total of $16,372 to tsunami victims through UMCOR, Willocks said. Other large contributions included $1,200 from Church Street UMC, a Knoxville District congregation with 775 in average worship attendance, and $1,000 from Jonesborough UMC, a Johnson City District congregation with 175 in average worship attendance.
Some congregations called Holston Missions Coordinator Bill Daugherty to ask about collecting supplies for tsunami victims. But Daugherty, like denominational leaders, emphasized that cash is most needed right now. UMCOR, in turn, will use the cash and work with other international agencies to get help and supplies to the victims.
On Jan. 5, the United Methodist Church's international public relations office in Nashville announced that the denomination had surpassed $1 million in online gifts for tsunami victims.
"There is no question United Methodist people are very generous people - that is not just about money, it is about prayers, heart, caring and love," said Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the denomination's Council of Bishops. "Our United Methodists, as part of the larger human family, have again demonstrated love for neighbor as well as love of God with their response to the tsunami earthquake disaster."
UMCOR is one of the agencies listed by the U.S. government following President George Bush's appeal for Americans to donate to private, non-governmental relief organizations. A special online site, www.methodistrelief.org, was activated on Dec. 27 and immediately generated hundreds of positive responses.
CNN has reported that the Internet has played an unprecedented role in supplying aid, money and information in the aftermath of the Asian tsunamis.
The Internet has changed giving, agrees the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive with United Methodist Communications, the denomination's communication agency. The traditional way of giving in churches on Sunday morning will continue, but people are looking for ways to respond immediately, he said. "The church must be present, must be on screen and available."
The failure to get the message out quickly becomes a message that nothing is being done, Hollon said. "It is as easy to click the mouse and go somewhere else, as it is to use the Web site of the church."
However, online giving is only a part of the response from the United Methodist Church, Weaver said. Congregations across the church - in the U.S., Africa, Europe, and Asia - are collecting funds and mobilizing in any way that they can.
United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.
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