October 10, 2018, will be a day not easily forgotten for thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. As with any traumatic event, the first year can be the hardest. For Hurricane Michael survivors, the first anniversary was an opportunity to remember the devastation caused by the category five storm and look ahead to better days.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference remembered this historic event in multiple ways and provided video and print resources for local churches to use the weekend prior to the anniversary. In addition to the local church participation, Bishop David Graves spent four weekends over the course of September and October visiting with AWF churches who sustained damage and who helped their communities in the days after the storm.
Bishop Graves visited the following areas:
September 15: Gulf Breeze UMC
September 22: Good News UMC
October 6: Lynn Haven UMC
October 13: Port St. Joe UMC and Apalachicola UMC
Each of these churches ministered to their communities in unique ways. Gulf Breeze UMC and Good News UMC immediately served as supply collection hubs and exhausted their resources and contacts to get supplies where they were most needed. Lynn Haven UMC and Port St. Joe UMC received significant structural damage; yet both congregations have found creative ways to continue ministry. Lynn Haven UMC has met in a parking lot and charter school to ensure that their church family can continue to worship together
. Port St. Joe UMC had recently completed a community life center that withstood the strong winds and fared much better than their traditional sanctuary. Although Apalachicola UMC is part of the Florida Conference by a few miles, this congregation continues to help house volunteers and were able to access and provide relief to the Port St. Joe area immediately after the storm.
“Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give a person is your presence,” stated Bishop David Graves. “It was important for me to personally thank these pastors and congregations for the tireless efforts they have given since October 10, 2018. These pastors have made their churches a priority and some of them still have a long road ahead of them. I wanted to give thanks for their servant hearts. I look forward to spending time on the second anniversary with other churches who also share this burden.”
Rev. Chris Ackerman, who serves as the Hurricane Michael Recovery Director, was a full-time associate pastor at Lynn Haven UMC when the storm hit. “Fifty-three weeks ago I could have never dreamed that I would be dedicating my ministry to the relief efforts,” said Ackerman. “In the days that followed, we didn’t know if we would even have a church, where our paychecks would come from or what the next day would look like. I am forever grateful to a Bishop who showed up days after the storm to assure us we were not alone and one year later to continue to encourage us. He exemplified his continued commitment in the past few weeks by simply being present with us.”
The common thread through the recovery process has been the United Methodist Connection. Through global financial donations, to UMCOR grants, to relief teams, to conference support, the survivors have hope that one day, life might begin to look a little more stable. Until then, the Alabama-West Florida Conference has pledged to walk alongside these communities through the long-term recovery process.
For more information visit www.hurricanemichaelrecovery.org