We are praying for our neighbors as Hurricane Irma comes on shore in South Florida. Bishop Ken Carter has been updating his conference on preparations that are underway and plans in place. Read on to see how the Florida Annual Conference is serving even as it faces the storm.
The Florida Conference has strong teams and clear processes in place as we anticipate the coming of Hurricane Irma. A call center will be functional and superintendents have plans of action for their districts.
We urge pastors to communicate more, not less, about how the local church is present and in mission during these days. Some will open their homes to colleagues and friends. Some are in the process of evacuation. Let us err on the side of patience and generosity with each other.
In Romans 12, Paul writes, "Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers" (11-13).
While there is much that we do not yet know about the effects of Hurricane Irma over the next few days, we can be safe, stay connected, and remain prayerful. God is with us.
The Florida cabinet met by conference call today. We checked in on how we are doing personally, on what was significant and of concern in each district, and on a plan to stay in connection with our clergy; for example, some of our pastors serve in mandatory evacuation areas. Excellent conference teams (including ministry protection and disaster recovery) are functioning and their resources are available to you, now and in the days ahead.
We encourage clergy to stay in connection with the people in your local churches, to make decisions that are safe, and in the aftermath of the hurricane to find ways (with your leaders) to relieve human suffering. We are also grateful to be a part of a larger connection, which includes friends in other states and across the world, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and most importantly, our trust and reliance on God.
We are in Lakeland. Today we have been reaching out to pastors + friends. We have also been preparing for the impact (thanks to Pam for thinking of so many of the details) + taking precautions. Friends from the coast are staying with us. We're stocked with water + food and we have a generator.
One of the characteristics of the Florida Conference is that many of our members have family in Puerto Rico, Haiti and Cuba, and we are tracking what they are hearing. Our next focus will be on the southernmost part of our conference--we have several churches in the Keys and on barrier islands (such as Marco, Pine Island, Boca Grande) and we are concerned about the cities.
There are already amazing acts of hospitality. Warren Willis Camp and the Life Enrichment Center in Leesburg are housing and feeding over 300 Duke Energy and Sumpter Electric workers. The residents of our Children's Home have relocated to the Methodist Home in Macon, Georgia. Tallahassee Heights UMC is housing Red Cross workers until they are deployed. And we are connecting FSU Wesley students who need to evacuate with the Wesley Foundation in Auburn. The clergy in one church are spending the day guiding the homeless they worship with each Sunday to safety.
On a day like today I realize the power of our connection. Most of our superintendents know the status and location of all of their clergy. The cabinet has been in constant communication with each other today. We are urging our pastors + leaders to stay safe, to remain connected + to continue in prayer.