Early Response Team: “To provide a Caring Christian Presence in the Aftermath of Disaster”

By Kerry Bart

by Rev. Kerry Bart, Epworth UMC Ripley, Jackson County

I’ve been a United Methodist pastor for twenty years and there’s still so much I’m learning about our wonderful connection and the many ways we have for ordinary people – disciples like you and me – to be involved in all kinds of ministries.

I spent a beautiful autumn Saturday in a church basement with fifteen other people, learning about one specific area of disaster-response ministry provided by The United Methodist Church: the Early Response Team (ERT). You may have heard that our United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) is first on the ground after a disaster, and last to leave after recovery. I learned that before work teams go in to rebuild, re-roof, and re-paint, ERTs go to disaster sites to “provide a caring Christian presence in the aftermath of a disaster.” Before rebuilding can happen, these specialized teams provide some needed clean-up labor and some equally-important companionship. Grief work and relationships go hand-in-hand with elbow grease and cleaning up.

Early Response Teams are made of people from local congregations who are willing, able, and ready to lend a hand for a few days after something like a flood or tornado. They are not there to rescue people or put out fires (that’s for trained professionals) and they are not there to rebuild (that’s for recovery teams), but they are there after the danger has passed and before the rebuilding can occur. They are there for the people and some of the clean-up. The work of the ERT is social and spiritual as well as physical. And since disasters tend to affect communities, ideally ERTs are made up of people from nearby communities or counties.

There are over 400 communities in West Virginia, from the 15 people in Birch River (Nicholas County) to the 50,000 people in Charleston. We have close to a nine hundred United Methodist Churches across the conference. Wouldn’t it be great to have an Early Response Team in your community?

Contact our Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, the Rev. Jim McCune (email or text: 304-813-1274) to find out how you can become part of an Early Response Team near you!