Dear Friends,

Sunday afternoon when we first heard that a tornado had touched down in our area, members of Auburn UMC began creating Tornado Buckets to help people clean up after the disaster. As these relief efforts began, clergy in our church and the surrounding areas were called to East Alabama Medical Center to assist Chaplain Laura Eason and the medical community with the large number of patients and families injured and grieving from the storm. There really are no words to describe the loss. It seems there are moments in life when silence is best. 

I am writing to you on Monday of this week after a disastrous evening of loss in our community. The number of those killed and injured from Sunday’s tornado continues to rise. Updated stories and reports are unfolding as I write this. I know that later in the week it will be important for all of us to share with one another our stories. Where were you? How have you experienced the tragedy of this week? What do you need? Please know you are not alone.  Also know there are a number of churches and faith communities in our area who want to help.

I have been deeply touched by watching the good people of Auburn, Beauregard, Opelika,  Smiths Station and Lee County respond. I saw on Sunday evening and this morning how the Medical Staff and Chaplains put their disaster training into practice in the most compassionate and efficient ways. I talked with some of our first responders helping in recovery efforts and I am grateful for their sacrifice. I sat beside our county Coroner, Bill Harris, as he looked with care upon family after family, describing the loss of their loved ones. I heard about all the people who rushed to donate blood and were met with a 21/2 hour waiting time because so many people had responded to the need.  

I also think of people like the young child, Patrick, who came to the hospital Sunday evening with his mom and a red wagon filled with pizzas and bottled water. Patrick lost a classmate in the tornado and when I asked him what caused him to bring food for everyone Sunday night he responded, “I am doing this for Taylor, my friend who died tonight.”  His response to this tragedy in our community sums up the way that all of us feel this week. We pray. We love. We worship. We offer blood. We show up when called upon. We come together because we love our neighbors in the same way that God has so loved each one of us.  

As I write these words to you the church bells from our steeple are ringing out a prayer across Auburn and Lee County. 

O God our help in ages past.

Our hope for years to come.

Our shelter from the stormy blast.

And our eternal home.

The words and the tune to this classic hymn have never meant more to me than today.  Please keep all of our local families experiencing tragic loss in your prayers. Pray for the children who lost classmates.  Pray for our first responders and our local East Alabama Medical Center. We also pray for our local funeral homes, churches and clergy as they care for those in need.  Grace and Peace to you all.  

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