Remembering Isabel, Anticipating Florence

As I write these words, Hurricane Florence is churning in the Atlantic Ocean, forecast to make landfall along the coast of North Carolina as a category 4 hurricane, then to move slowly northeast across North Carolina and Virginia, bringing in its wake tremendous amounts of rainfall and wind.

GOES East captured this imagery of Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic around 7:45 a.m. EDT on Sept. 12, 2018. At this point, Florence was still a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Photo from

It is reminding me of another hurricane that took a similar track, which impacted our family significantly. Many of you will remember Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, which hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a category 3 storm, then meandered over central Virginia with much rain and wind. We were living in Richmond at the time, and I still have vivid memories of Deborah and me huddling in our basement around a battery-operated radio and flashlight, as the many trees in our wooded lot were being blown to the ground. We lost every tree in our yard, leaving us a clean-up project that stretched over several months. Our street was cluttered with trees for several days before we could get out by car. We were without power for three weeks.  During that time, the church I was serving maintained its power source. We served as a place where people without power could come and find air conditioning, could come and plug in their various appliances, and could come and get a cooked meal several times a week without having to go out and pay restaurant prices. The church stepped up as a place of hospitality, support, and comfort for many in our community during that opportune season, with lasting impact.

I am wondering now what will happen in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Will we lose trees? power? more? Will this be an occasion when churches step up as “go-to” places in their communities, offering appropriate kinds of hospitality, support, and comfort? How will we bless our neighbors and our communities as a beacon of potential season in a time of despair? We will need God’s help, and we can depend that it will come. We will need one another for support and encouragement and the strength that comes when we work together rather than alone. And we will need a missional imagination, to prayerfully discern where God is leading us in our neighborhoods and communities.

In our Bi-District office, we brainstormed some possible examples of how churches might respond, and came up with this list in just a couple of minutes:

  • Create a debris clean up crew and clean up local neighborhoods
  • If you have a canoe/boat/kayak find out how to help using it
  • Organize a “grill off” to cook all food that will go to waste because of power outages
  • Invite neighbors over for dinner
  • Offer a place to stay to those
  • Open the church as a place to stay to those without homes or without power
  • Cook and deploy meals to those without power
  • Take up an offering for UMCOR
  • Start collecting names and building mission teams to help as soon as get the go ahead
  • Collect and create flood buckets (involve the neighbors)
  • Be a flood bucket depot
  • Help collaboration between food banks
  • Offer food and drink to crews working to restore power
  • Take a meal to first responders

My prayer is that Hurricane Florence, if it cannot be turned away, will bring no loss of life and as little disruption as a storm its size can bring. But, if the damage must come, I pray that our churches will be strengthened and inspired to respond as the “hands and feet of Jesus” in ways that will have both immediate and lasting impact.

Grace and Peace,