An update from the Rev. Don Remick, co-chair, Disaster Resource Team of the MA Conference, UCC
For many of us this seems like old news. Tornado damage, snow laden trees and flooded homes are almost a distant memory. For others this is a new daily norm as they continue to try to find stability in a new world where home and possessions have been blown or swept away. The scar of the tornado track is still visible as you drive through parts of western Massachusettts. If you travel Route 2 (a major connector in the west which only just reopened) you can see the new geography carved by water. All along the roads of the region you can see broken tree limbs reaching for the earth instead of the sky. And in the neighborhoods there are still piles of debris along with piles of building supplies. Disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. And it will still be a long time before folks discover a new normal: a new way of stable living.
Life in our UCC churches within these disaster areas is also striving to find a new normal. They have been adjusting their ministries since the first drop of rain fell, the first gust of wind rose and the first snowflake glided in. The description of this new normal includes the words 'exhausted' and 'exhilerated'. There is a joy in doing the work of God. Our people and pastors are integrally involved in the despair and hope of those whose lives have been devastated (which includes many of their own church folks). Our churches have been the face of God's love and compassion. It is what churches were birthed to do.
While many of the folks within these disaster zones have both the financial means and the insurance to rebuild their homes, they still struggle with the inner emotional and spiritual resources needed to manage the grief of loss along with all the complexities of policies and rules and paperwork. Others lack all of these means and are still in temporary shelters and housing while decisions, made by others, determine their future. As usual, if it were not for faith communities there would not be advocates to speak for those too weary to speak for themselves. If it were not for our faith communities, there would be no one to speak to the despair and discouragement with words of God's hope and comfort. Our UCC churches, people and pastors, are doing that.
One example of this is in Williamstown. Following the flooding rains of Hurricane Irene, one whole mobile home park was left uninhabitable. Over 200 families were displaced. Only half of them have been allowed back. The rest will not be. The church formed a Long Term Recovery Group consisting of local leaders, federal and state guidance and non profit assistance. Led by our Rev. Carrie Bail, this group is ensuring that the most vulnerable of populations is not left unseen as life moves on for everyone else.
That story is repeated through our churches and pastors in the Brimfield, Monson and Springfield region as well as the surrounding towns. The generosity of the Commonwealth has been extraordinary. People and funds poured into the tornado region following the news reports last June. Much less poured into the Hurricane Irene flood impacted regions from Charlemont to Williamstown. The generosity has been reflected by our sisters and brothers in the MACUCC who have donated time, effort, materials and money to the recovery.
Our MACUCC Conference Staff and Disaster Resource Team have worked with the UCC pastors and leaders in the impacted regions with the formation of Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs). These have been managing funds coming in, seeking and overseeing volunteer groups, managing the complexities of material donations and assessing the ongoing and unmet needs. Mostly they have been listening to the stories and holding hands with many, many people. They have fed body and soul. Your generosity to those impacted by the disaster has allowed us to support those who are doing the ministry on the ground. It has also allowed us to provide funding for case management and relief efforts. We are continuing to work with the LTRGs in all these regions to fill in the gaps of funding and efforts to provide for the unmet needs of the most vulnerable people of our communities.
Thank you to all of our sisters and brothers in the MACUCC whose prayers and gifts have enabled so many lives to be touched, comforted and healed.