Two presbyteries establish funds for Hurricane Michael relief

October 19, 2018 by Gregg Brekke

In the aftermath of damage caused by Hurricane Michael, two funds have been established through the Presbyterian Foundation for donors to contribute toward presbytery-led relief efforts. The hurricane hit Florida’s panhandle on October 10 as a Category 4 storm and cut a broad swath of destruction as it moved across the Southeast. Current estimates are that the storm caused more than $6 billion in damage and claimed at least 50 lives.

The Presbytery of Florida and Flint River Presbytery are currently assessing damages in their respective regions and working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), the Presbyterian Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to find ways to mitigate property losses and restore lives.

The Rev. Dr. Roy Martin, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Florida, described the damage caused by the hurricane and its associated tornadoes in graphic terms. “If you were to fly over Lynn Haven [Florida] you would say, if you know your history, it’s like a bombed-out Dresden in 1940.”

Coast Guard crews provide assistance post-Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, Oct. 14, 2018. The Coast Guard is working with local, state and federal partners for Hurricane Michael post-storm response across northwest Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Hunter Medley)

Circle of gratitude

Calling the way Presbyterians respond to needs in the wider church a “circle of gratitude,” Martin is thankful for the connectional nature of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the many offers of assistance already received, adding that short-term needs in the region are primarily financial. You can donate to disaster relief in the Presbytery of Florida here, and donate to disaster relief in Flint River Presbytery here.

“PDA is here with us for the long haul,” he said. “Their National Response Team members are here to be with as many congregations as possible in worship this weekend. We’ll formulate a long-term plan, but if people want to donate money to the Foundation’s funds, that would be the best way to help because it enables us to determine where the resources are most needed and distribute them.”

While many churches have insurance to cover property damage, Martin is concerned for smaller congregations with limited or no hurricane-related coverage. Monies collected, he said, will make all the difference in these small congregations’ ability to continue ministry in their communities.

The Rev. Deb Bibler, Executive Presbyter in Flint River Presbytery that ranges from the Georgia-Florida border to just south of Atlanta, has heard from many pastors who are concerned for members of their congregations, especially those without storm insurance or with damage not covered by insurance.

“There’s still no drinking water for a lot of people, particularly in the Albany, Donaldsonville and Bainbridge (Georgia) areas,” she said. “The water is not yet safe to drink. Electricity is slowly coming back on. The biggest thing we’re seeing is trees that fell — that are not on a building or on your house — are not generally covered by insurance.”

Sixteen of the presbytery’s 44 congregations were damaged by the storm and she estimates 1,000 individual Presbyterians have property damages ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 or greater.

Sharing love and hope

The Rev. Lisa Wilson Martin, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in hard-hit Lynn Haven, Florida, said, “Families are pulling together to continue the ministries of the congregation in new and creative ways.”

Due to extensive damage to its sanctuary, First Presbyterian will be worshiping outside this Sunday. “Our presence in the community in which we reside will be amped up so that our neighbors experience the genuine love of Christ that we share in word and deed,” she said.

While acknowledging the pain of widespread personal and congregational losses, an air of gratitude permeates conversations with those in the Presbytery of Florida and Flint River Presbytery. Gratitude for neighbors, for relief groups and national agencies, and for connections to the wider Presbyterian Church.

“Nobody lost a life in our presbytery, so we praise God,” said Bibler. “And all I hear and all I feel is gratitude. That’s all it is, gratitude that we’re alive and together. We can do this together and for that, we are so grateful.”

Gregg Brekke is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and videographer. He most recently served as Editor of Presbyterian News Service. He may be reached at gregg@sixview.com.