Bishop John Schol, Special Contributor…
(editor’s note: This is a message from Bishop Schol to the UMC’s Greater New Jersey Conference, which he oversees)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Why? Why, I keep asking myself as I drive to meet with people who have lost their homes. Why, I ask myself when I encounter mothers with infants and no electricity. Why, I ask myself when I learn of the death of one of our fellow United Methodist or people of any other faith for that matter.
If you want a nice neat answer wrapped with a bow, I do not have one. Don’t misunderstand me, I understand the science of hurricanes, but the “why” people are asking me is not weather-related but human-related, faith-related. I know that Jesus said it would rain on the just and the unjust. That bad things happen to good people. Life is messy and life has neither quick fixes nor easy answers. We will discuss and reason with these questions for a long time.
But there is another question in the midst of the tragedy of Sandy, and that is: Where is God and where is Jesus? Well, let me tell you. I saw Jesus walking around New Jersey and parts of New York. I saw the pastors and laity of several of our churches who have opened their doors to house people and to be a community center in the midst of the storm and aftermath. Talk about open hearts, open minds and open doors. These laity and clergy became the heart, the mind and the door to Christ.
I visited the Chatham Church today and met nearly 100 Drew University students who live too far away in Africa, South Korea, Texas, Portland, Oregon , and a host of other places where they could not travel to be home. So they traveled to the Chatham Church where they found Christ through a place to sleep, hot meals and electricity to charge up their electronics to call home and do homework.
I saw how the Morrow and Caldwell Churches were Christ in the midst of the community. They have opened their doors wide. I saw business people charging cell phones and conducting business while their businesses were closed, youth playing together, meals being served and parents talking about what parents talk about when school is not open and there is no electricity at home. Morrow church had 467 people come through their doors today. I heard the stories of dramatic late night rescues through texting and getting a hold of rescue crews at one shore town.
Oh I saw Jesus today, and he was resurrected in the hearts and lives of our people.
I also saw many who need Jesus. I visited shore towns and spoke with people wondering what’s next. I saw some of the destruction and realized that some people will never be able to resurrect what they have lost.
I urge all United Methodists to stop and listen to people’s stories, to get out and volunteer at shelters as you are able and to open your church to the community if you have power. Let them use your internet, charge their phones, offer hot meals. I urge you to check in with your neighbors and stay close to your family. These are hard times and we need to walk with God and with one another.
We are organizing a comprehensive United Methodist response by coordinating with state and local officials and other faith communities. In the coming days you will learn how we as United Methodists are ready to serve on the front lines with others to bring hope, healing and restoration for people. I have spoken with our cabinet earlier today and with our disaster response coordinators tonight to identify how we will organize, mobilize and respond to those who need the love of Christ. Unfortunately, our conference office has no power and our staff are working from home. We will have a small group of staff in the office on Friday, supported by generators, to ensure we are working closely with you. We have moved our servers off site so that as of tonight we are receiving and sending emails. Our web page, www.gnjumc.org has links where you can share information and receive information about the United Methodist response. We are working together to support you and people throughout the conference to
identify immediate humanitarian needs and respond as quickly and faithfully as we can. We are making grant money available to churches and community organizations who are meeting humanitarian needs at this time. Please share with us through the web link how your congregation is responding to human needs. Also, notify your district office if your congregation is providing humanitarian support and needs a grant to support your efforts.
Assess damage to churches, parsonages and communities so that we can support you and your communities. We ask pastors to share on the web page any damage to your church and parsonage. We also want to learn about the long term needs in your community as we look at relief needs. By the end of the day Thursday we will have information about how to access our group insurance.
Respond with the love of Christ, first with humanitarian support and later with rebuilding homes and communities. Please continue to view the web page for the opportunities and work being done by United Methodists.
The three districts that have been hit the hardest are Cape Atlantic, Northern Shore and Gateway North. These are the districts along the Jersey Shore. We know there is significant damage and challenges in the other districts as well.
Yesterday and today I visited in the Northern Shore and Gateway North districts and was overwhelmed by the destruction and grateful for how churches are responding. Tomorrow I will be meeting with the pastors of Cape Atlantic and visiting some of the shelters along the coast.
Right now here is what you can do:
Pray for everyone who has suffered from Hurricane Sandy and pray for our pastors, disaster response team, lay leadership and the cabinet. I believe in prayer. I believe our united voices are heard by God and that God will raise up miracles within us.
As you are able, spend time with people. Hear their stories. Weep with them, laugh with them and pray with them. Also, do something for others. Volunteer, give blood, offer meals, and see how you can help at a shelter.
Give! Give your love, give your time and give your money. Through United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) donations are being received through Advance #3021787. Offerings in your church through the Advance will support relief efforts from Sandy. Also, encourage your United Methodist friends across the country to take offerings in their congregations to support this advance number. It will make a difference.
Stay tuned for how we will mobilize United Methodists to be the love of Christ. Visit our web page regularly to read stories, share stories and volunteer.
In my first two months as your bishop, I have come to learn about the heart and soul of the people of this conference and I am honored to serve with you and by your side as we serve others. Together with God we will stand when the storms of life are raging.
Your brother and bishop in Christ,
Bishop John Schol
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey Conference