Written by Anthony Moujaes
With the eyes of the nation looking toward Oklahoma in the wake of a deadly and devastating tornado Monday night, the United Church of Christ is offering prayers and support, beginning to coordinate relief efforts in the affected areas of Oklahoma City and Moore, Okla.
Edith Guffey, Conference Minister for the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, said none of the UCC buildings in the area have been damaged, and "to our knowledge none of our members or families have lost their lives," she said.
The disaster response team of UCC’s Wider Church Ministries issued an appeal for donations to be used toward supplies and relief in the region. Guffey, Oklahoma City pastors, and Florence Coppola of the UCC’s National Disaster Ministries are communicating and coordinating the denomination’s response to assist those affected by the storm. Disaster Ministries will partner with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in developing a cooperative response.
Guffey sent a note out Monday night May 21 to UCC Conference Ministers indicating that she has been in contact with the five UCC churches in the Oklahoma City and Moore area. The congregations are Mayflower Congregational Church, Church of the Open Arms, Cathedral of Hope, Church of the Savior, and United Church of Norman. Guffey said some UCC members have lost personal property, with the home of one family leveled.
"Thanks to everyone for their words, Facebook posts, texts and calls, and especially to Florence for her immediate actions and response," Guffey said. "It is in times like these that we understand best what it is to be supported, cared and prayed for by our sisters and brothers across the country. We can never turn the clock back to the minutes before all of this happened, but we can walk together through the difficult days ahead."
Coppola has already spoken with volunteer networks and ecumenical partners to begin coordinating a response, and she will join Guffey in Oklahoma City next week "to offer support in any we can, and to begin conversation with pastors and ecumenical partners about long term strategies and support" as they begin the road to recovery, Guffey said.
The May 20 tornado was about two miles wide, and wiped out a wide area, twisting along the ground in a 22-mile stretch for about 40 minutes. So far, dozens of people have been killed, though an exact number is undetermined. The death toll as of Tuesday morning was 24.
Hundreds have been injured, with more being pulled out alive from the rubble. There are about 40,000 people without power, and other utilities are spotty. The tornado has leveled two schools and a hospital building.
In addition to the storm on Monday, there were tornados on the ground in Oklahoma on Sunday night, and weather experts said several more could pop up in the area as the storm moves through the central part of the country.
"Generosity is a hallmark of UCC members and friends," Coppola said. "Their gifts now will help the UCC respond to these devastating storms and those yet to come this spring and summer."
Disaster Ministries is asking UCC members for their prayers, and is encouraging anyone who wishes to make a donation to do so through the Emergency USA Fund. There could be volunteer opportunities in Oklahoma in the future through Disaster ministries, but for now first responders are on the ground searching for missing persons and providing aid.
For more information, visit the UCC Disaster Response page to learn how to help.