COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – September 2017


“The United Church of Christ is going to love you back to life.”

I’ve remembered and treasured those words now for 12 years.  When a staff member of the UCC’s national setting said them to me, it was the day after Hurricane Katrina and I was in my evacuation location, watching the images of devastation from the Gulf Coast roll across the television screen.  I knew already then that my life had just drastically changed, but it was only after returning to Biloxi, Mississippi two days later that I comprehended the enormity of the loss for all of us.  The unfathomable grief of Hurricane Katrina would characterize my life and thousands of other lives for the next several years, as the process of survival and then recovery unfolded…. grueling, slow, and heart-breaking at every step.

Now it is Hurricane Harvey that has wreaked its havoc in communities across Texas and Louisiana, and there are untold numbers of people in a dozen communities and cities who are weeping tears of grief.  And soon, it appears, Hurricane Irma may deal still more suffering across Florida.  Over the next several years, we will all have the precious opportunity in all these places to “love them back to life”.

I can tell you from my own experience as Executive Director of Back Bay Mission after Hurricane Katrina that I have never seen the United Church of Christ better than I saw it in the months and years following that disaster.  National setting staff offered constant support and encouragement during those exhausting years, providing advice, dollars and presence in the midst of it all.  UCC volunteer groups poured in from all over the country and helped us to literally re-build homes and communities.  Generosity flowed, as tens of millions of dollars were raised in the United Church of Christ for recovery efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana during that time.  That money allowed places like Back Bay Mission to increase direct services to families who had lost everything, multiply housing recovery efforts, and remain the solid source of support to the poorest neighborhoods that had relied on it for decades, even though the Mission’s own facilities had also been decimated.

Everything the United Church of Christ did after Hurricane Katrina was a precious life-line for those of us in the thick of the disaster.  It was all the most beautiful example of extravagant love that I have ever seen, precious hope embodied every day where devastation and loss otherwise ruled.  Even now, as I remember it all these years later, tears pour down my face in thanksgiving. The United Church of Christ really did love us back to life.

We can do the same for Hurricane Harvey survivors now. The most important thing you can do at this moment is to give generously.  The United Church of Christ has set up an emergency fund for Hurricane Harvey relief. 100% of every dollar given to this fund is utilized directly for long-term recovery efforts with those in the impacted areas.   There is also information available about a number of other ways your congregation can consider responding to these disasters.  And in time, these areas will be ready to receive volunteer groups to assist in the rebuilding efforts.  Our disaster coordinator, Renee Pfenning, and I have already talked about organizing groups from the Minnesota Conference to go when the time is right.  In the aftermath of Harvey, and perhaps in the wake of Irma to come, the need will be immense.  And the United Church of Christ will show up and remain over the very long haul of recovery.

Those impacted by these devastating storms are in a world of hurt right now, and the path before them is long and torturous.  So let’s be the Church at our best, and love them back to life.

Your partner in service,




Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

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