EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into ActionRecovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic

EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into Action
Recovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic

A bronze statue still stands despite the destruction surrounding it at the Mall at Turtle Creek Mall in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The tornado, rated an EF3 by the National Weather Service, carved a path of destruction through the city center. Although 22 injuries were reported, none were life-threatining and no fatalities have been reported. Photo by Jonesboro Police Department.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

On Saturday, March 28, a powerful storm whipped through the Northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro, producing a large tornado that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses and injured 22 people.

Relief efforts are now underway to help the more than 200 buildings that were damaged by the tornado, which was rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service office in Memphis with maximum winds of 140 mph.

According to local media reports, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage were caused by the tornado, which made its way through major city streets in the middle of town and through several residential areas north of the city center.

Remarkably, in part due to the current COVID-19 social distancing efforts in place throughout the U.S., no fatalities were reported from the tornado.

Despite the destruction caused to several businesses usually packed with people, including the Mall at Turtle Creek and surrounding restaurants, many buildings were empty when the storm hit Saturday evening.

United Methodist Churches in the city also received minimal damage, although several church members’ homes were impacted.

The Rev. John Miles, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, said that more than 100 church members were out on Sunday morning assisting in clean-up efforts, and more would be sent out in the coming days.

“While I am grieved by the disaster I am amazed that no one was killed. The damage to many houses was enormous,” Miles said. “I feel relief that no one was killed, sadness for the people who have lost their homes, and gratitude for the many people who have flooded these neighborhoods to help.”

Janice Mann, disaster response co-coordinator for the Arkansas Conference, said that at this time, access to the city is still very limited, although their team was allowed to enter on Monday and bring donations for relief efforts.

“Right now, it looks like 20% residential damage, 80% businesses, but we don’t have official numbers yet,” Mann said. “I want to say thank you to St. Paul UMC for allowing us to use their facilities for our relief efforts and First UMC for housing our volunteers.”

At Cornerstone UMC, the Rev. Kathleen McMurray said her church has been hard at work sewing face masks to protect against the coronavirus since before the tornado hit, but after Saturday they have worked to hand out the masks to disaster response workers.

McMurray said that it’s been difficult to balance the need to help the community recover from this disaster while still remembering that physical distancing rules related to the coronavirus still have to be followed.

“It is really difficult to process such loss in the midst of the rising global pandemic of COVID-19. We want to help but we also want to help safely, and so we are doing our best to listen to the needs and procedures from our Disaster Response leaders in the community,” McMurray said.

Victor Moran, a member of First UMC Jonesboro whose home was damaged in the tornado, said the support he and his family have received from the church has made a huge impact on how he’s processing this challenging time.

“The team from First Church showed up at our house this morning like a conquering army. They completed in less than an hour what would have taken me days. Then they spread out through the neighborhood serving with grace, timeliness, and excellence.

“Please convey to the whole church Teresa’s and my deep, deep gratitude for what you all have done,” Moran said.

McMurray said that despite the tragedy of the past weekend, there is still hope that can be found in all of it.

“One of the biggest things we as people of faith can do is to offer hope. COVID-19 brings with it so much fear and anxiety already. Experiencing a disaster of this magnitude on top of it can be overwhelming. Being able to share the gospel of resurrection, in word and deed, in the midst of this is powerful for our community.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of disaster for Jonesboro on Sunday, allowing the city and state to potentially receive federal money for disaster relief as well.

The Arkansas Conference has also set up a donation hub for disaster relief in Jonesboro and the surrounding community. To donate to tornado relief efforts, visit our online donation website and select Jonesboro Disaster Relief. 

COVID-19 Government Aid Info for Churches and Church WorkersJoin us for a government aid webinar, Tuesday, March 31

COVID-19 Government Aid Info for Churches and Church Workers
Join us for a government aid webinar, Tuesday, March 31

We have received many questions regarding the recent passage of the CARE Act through the United States Congress. Many of these questions revolve around if there are any provisions in the act that will help non-profits, churches and church workers during this period of economic turmoil and uncertainty.

The Center for Finance and Administration has released a helpful document that analyzes the most imporant information that churches, pastors, and non-profit groups need to know in order to receive government assistance.

We are also hosting a webinar on Tuesday, March 31 to go over the steps you and your group need to take in order to receive government aid, as well as answer any questions you still have about this important legislative development.

The Government Aid webinar will be held at 1 p.m. on March 31. The link to the Zoom webinar can be found here: https://arumc.zoom.us/j/100891545

For further questions, contact Todd Burris at tburris@arumc.org.

Latest Recommendations on Feeding Ministries from Mary Lewis Dassinger

This week is Spring Break and some schools, especially in rural areas, may not continue to serve meals.  Other schools that are not offering any type of continued instruction also may not be offering meals. This means that those low-income students lose access to two meals per day.  Please consider ways to provide meals to these students.

  • Do your research! 1 person from the church should call the local school, the school district or the school superintendent to ask how and where students are being fed. You can also reach out to your local county extension office agent, as they are also aware of resources that are being made available in your area.
  • Look ways to partner – help deliver meals or food boxes along bus routes if they are delivering instructional materials. Or, offer to provide meals at a convenient location for students.
  • Invite other churches in your area to help provide meals.
  • Recruit volunteers.
    1. Set up prep and cooking stations with space in between for volunteers.
    2. Recruit younger volunteers if possible, keeping our most vulnerable members safe.
  • Work with the schools to share with their community where meals will be offered and at what time. If not along a bus route or at low income housing areas where many children live,
    1. Try to serve out of the same spot so that the families know where to go each time.
    2. Keep the times limited to a reasonable time frame.
  • Pack meals to go – either cold bagged lunches or boxed hot meals.
    1. Deliver to cars using protective gear and wiping gloved hands with sanitizer between each delivery.
    2. Or, set up tables near the door so that families can quickly grab and go. There should be no congregating. Minimize activity in the building.
    3. Keep a safe distance, using 6 feet. Tape demarcating where people should stand or wait can be helpful.

Let Mary Lewis Dassinger know if you are providing meals.  If you need assistance, then there are potential resources with which to connect you.

Other Ways to Help

  • Provide Food Boxes along with the meals. Backpack ministries may have food available or looking for ways to continue.
  • Continue to support local food pantries or blessing boxes. Collect food to keep shelves full.
  • Regional food banks can also help you connect and serve. They may know where the greatest need is and able to connect you. They may also need volunteers to pack food boxes as well as financial donations to keep their warehouses full.
    • Any food collections would best be utilized at a local ministry since the food banks would have to turn the food around and send it back out.
    • Confirm volunteer conditions are practicing safe distances.

This link will provide a map of each food bank’s territory and links to their websites.

Contact Names:

North Central Arkansas
Jeff Quick

Arkansas Food Bank
Patricia Fry  (Volunteer Coordination) or Connie Bledsoe (Agency Coordinator)

If you would like to help the ARFB pack boxes this week, please sign up for a volunteer shift here.

Food Bank of North East Arkansas
*Jennifer Hannah or Emily Still

River Valley Regional Food Bank
*Morgan Osman or Tracy Engle

Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
*Kent Eikenberry

Harvest Regional Food Bank
Camille Wrinkle

*These names have been pulled from their websites and have not returned request for permission to contact specifically.

A Quarantine Meditation

A Quarantine Meditation

By Kay Brockwell

St. Paul UMC, Jonesboro

When we began Lent on Feb. 26, we were certainly not thinking about giving up this much. Not our jobs, not our family gatherings, not our dinners out and movie nights, not our worship services. We were not thinking about giving up affectionate hugs from our friends when we met them. Our teens were not thinking about giving up senior proms and high school basketball championships. Our sports fans were not thinking about giving up March Madness and the first month and a half of major league baseball.

We were not thinking about giving up community. 

What a difference four weeks make! Now we are “hunkered down,” making only necessary trips to the grocery and pharmacy and doctor’s office, and being careful to keep the prescribed six feet away from everyone else in the store. In the evenings, we rediscover our families, if we are fortunate enough to still share our homes with them. Unless we’re a health care worker or a first responder or work in what’s deemed essential retail, we’re absent the community of our workplace. Those of us who live alone may go for days without seeing another human being.

Our Lent is fashioned after Jesus’ period of fasting in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan, and where he withstood those temptations. He spent his 40 days in solitude. And here we are, 2000 years later, spending our days leading to Easter in solitude as well. Our churches are empty. Our Sunday morning church is conducted by Facebook live, YouTube, Zoom meeting or conference call. We, too, are tempted in our solitude; tempted by sloth, by depression, by even further withdrawal from the world we can no longer touch. We, and our church, will emerge from this period time a changed people, and a changed church; the question is how we will change, and how we’ll shape the post-coronavirus church and world.

How do we, then, survive this time in our own little wilderness? While our distractions are lessened, our opportunity to seek God grows. Without the tyranny of a schedule and a calendar, we can spend more time in His presence. We can take time to sit quietly in his presence, not petitioning, not praising, just aware of his presence in us. We can, perhaps, begin a practice of meditation and contemplative prayer.

We can spend more time showing love to those with whom we live, and to others in our community. We can craft wonderful meals, build long-awaited projects, play in the back yard; we can take a home-cooked meal to a neighbor (leaving it on their porch). We can call a shut-in or someone who lives alone and pick up their groceries when we shop. We can mail a card or a small gift. 

We can re-establish our church community through a combination of technology and inventiveness. If most of our members are elderly and not online, we can have conference call services. We can offer drive-up Communion, complete with masks and surgical gloves and individually packaged elements. We can move a pulpit and sound system to the parking lot and hold a drive-in church. We can establish online prayer groups and Bible studies.

We can reach out to those we don’t know by providing food for feeding programs, or in neighborhood “free pantries,” or to our local food bank. We can continue to provide for the many needs that don’t stop because we are quarantined – infant formula, children’s clothing, online one-to-one tutoring for school children, meeting the needs of our homeless.

Most of all, we can remember the many times God has promised that he will never forsake his people. Quarantine may separate us; let us not allow it to forsake each other.

Bishop Mueller and the Arkansas Conference Temporarily Suspend Conference Tithing to Aid Local Churches

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (March 20, 2020) – The impact of coronavirus has not only affected the ability of churches to gather together for Sunday worship and Bible study, but it has also put a strain on the money needed to operate our church buildings from week-to-week. That is why the Arkansas Conference announced today that, starting on March 22, a Month of Jubilee will take effect for the next four Sundays where churches will not be required to tithe on any income that they receive during this four-week-period.

The idea behind calling it a Month of Jubilee comes from Leviticus 25:8-12. In Leviticus, The Year of Jubilee began when the trumpet sounded on the Day of Atonement, every 50th year. During this special celebration, all persons were released from their debt and land that had been taken from them was restored once more.

This decision, initiated by Bishop Mueller and made in conjunction with the Arkansas Conference Council on Finance and Administration and the Center for Administrative Services, will relieve the stress placed on churches during this uncertain time.

“We are taking this step of faith because we understand the extreme financial pressure COVID-19 is placing upon local congregations and your ministry. The cessation of the tithe for four weeks is a tangible expression of our belief that ministry begins with the local church and the Annual Conference’s role is to support congregations in every way we can,” said Bishop Mueller. “I am grateful to the Arkansas Conference Council on Finance and Administration; Brittany Watson, President of CFA; and Todd Burris, Director of the Center for Administrative Services, for their leadership in enacting this bold initiative. Working together, the churches of the Arkansas Conference can flourish in proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ during these difficult days and weeks.”

Todd Burris, the Director of the Center for Administrative Services, said that when Bishop Mueller asked him to work on this project, he immediately got to work with CFA to figure out how they were going to do this.

“Over the past year, the national conversation surrounding the United Methodist Church has been about division. This past week we’ve put our differences aside and focused on the health of each other and our Church,” Burris said. “It has been refreshing to see so many of us united in faith and action to help our churches and communities weather this crisis.”

For more information, please contact Todd Burris at tburris@arumc.org or by phone.

Thinking Ahead: Getting Creative for Your Easter Service

Thinking Ahead: Getting Creative for Your Easter Service

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

“Will we be able to hold Easter Worship in our sanctuary and, if we can’t, what can we do?” This is a question laity and pastors are asking all over Arkansas. Bishop Mueller and the Cabinet believe it is important to recognize that it is highly likely that no congregations will be able to gather together for in-person worship before the beginning of May at the earliest.

Since Easter is coming up quickly — Sunday, April 12 — it’s important to be proactive about the creative ways in which we can celebrate Easter this season rather than be reactive to all the unknowns we face.

So here are a few ways that you can remain together during Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Christ with the ones you love.

Livestream/Video Your Message

We have been talking a lot about livestreaming recently, and many of you had your first experience with a live-streamed worship service this past Sunday. And we keep talking about it because it’s such a great tool, especially with our current limits on worshiping together in-person. For Easter this year, consider livestreaming your service in the same way that you’ve been livestreaming your Sunday services. And if you can’t livestream, pre-record your sermon and post it online (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.) For more on livestreaming, check out our Communications webinar from Tuesday, which will be uploaded here very soon.

Connect with Local Media

Despite our current social distancing rules, your local media is still hard at work bringing you the news each day. That means radio stations and TV networks are still available to reach out to and ask about broadcasting your Easter service in your local area. Find out which stations broadcast in your area, and reach out to them to see if they would be willing to work with you and send out an Easter message to your community.

Record an Audio-Only Sermon/Podcast

If you don’t have a way to video your sermons, but you have a microphone and a recording device available, then consider recording your Easter sermon in an audio-only format. There are lots of free websites where you can upload your audio files for your congregation to hear, such as SoundCloud, Anchor, and even YouTube. You can also consider starting a podcast for your church, and uploading your audio sermons to one of the many podcast hosting services available online.

Hold Your Easter Service at a Later Date

In The United Methodist Church, we recognize Easter as the day where we celebrate the risen Christ at the end of the 40-day Lenten season. But have you ever wondered why the date for Easter changes from year to year? According to Ask the UMC, “In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea set the date for the celebration of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. For this reason, the date will change each year and can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25.” Although this has been the traditional understanding of Easter for hundreds of years, there are no rules that say you can’t hold your Easter service days, weeks, or even months later. Consider postponing your Easter service until the current regulations of social distancing have eased.

For all information regarding the Arkansas Conference’s response to COVID-19, visit our resource page below.