As I write this, all of us are dealing with the terrible wildfires and the devastation they have caused for nearby communities. Although I’m encouraged by news and firsthand accounts from pastors throughout the Cascadia District, the fact is that many of our members, their families and friends, have experienced personal loss. And the need is still so great at this moment, even as we begin to realize that it will be months and years before this crisis is really behind us.
Of course, all of this is happening on top of current social unrest over systemic racism, as well as the health and economic uncertainties caused by a global pandemic. Oh, and there’s that whole election a mere seven weeks away ….
Many of us, myself included, also bear grave personal concerns. (More about what that means to me below.)
When will it all end? None of us really knows. As we continue down this path, we can be assured of only two things: God is with us; and we have one another.
With all this in mind, I’d like to share some updates: first, about how it is that we are responding as the United Methodist presence in Salem-Keizer; and, second, some more personal news about my family back in Texas.
OPEN DOOR CHURCHES FIRE RELIEF EFFORTS
As with most of you, I awoke a week ago to news we would all have hoped never to hear—the beautiful Santiam Canyon had been all but completely overtaken by swiftly moving wildfires. Some among our fellowship were awakened by a knock on the door, as emergency personnel worked diligently to save lives in the middle of the night.
Since then, the staff, lay leaders, and pastors of Open Door Churches have been trying our best to be part of the relief efforts. We offered some guidance last Thursday designed to help mobilize our people to respond and I shared some of my own reflections and updates on the ODC Blog over the weekend.
I’m pleased to say that some of the questions I had about the relief efforts and how it is we might help have been resolved in the past three days. I had tried contacting every agency I could find, starting last Tuesday, hoping to find out if our churches might be needed to house evacuees. Fortunately, I was able to speak with two knowledgeable people on Sunday and Monday, including a Red Cross representative, and it turns out that even those churches who were previously listed as shelters didn’t end up providing that space. The Red Cross received a large grant that allowed them to send people to hotels almost immediately.
I was also able to confirm, during my conversation on Monday with the Red Cross, that the Red Cross is asking people NOT to make donations of material goods any longer. The overwhelming response of the community quickly became too much for them to process and they have asked that people offer financial support instead. If you want to support the Red Cross efforts, please click here.
There are, of course, other organizations at work, including the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund, established last week by Santiam Hospital as a vehicle for channeling donations more locally. Rev. Wendy Woodworth, former pastor with the Open Door Churches and now Cascadia District Superintendent, highlighted the work that local businesses have been doing by promoting the work of Santiam Brewing, owned partly by an ODC member, who have been providing meals for families at the State Fair Grounds. I’d encourage you to investigate the possibilities online and find a beneficiary you can feel good about supporting.
One last note on this topic … as I have spoken with many of our leaders over the past week, it has become clear that we want find more intentional ways to be prepared to serve those in need as Open Door Churches. When the need arises, we want to act! So, we are already beginning to have conversations about how that might happen.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
I’ll admit, I’ve struggled with how to share this news. It isn’t news about myself so much, but about my family in Texas, so I have only shared it on a limited basis with close friends and with staff and leadership here in Oregon.
Back in the spring, along the same timeline as my appointment here was being discerned by the Cabinet, my father was experiencing some increasingly difficult health problems. Throughout the spring, the unfolding pandemic meant pursuing answers was more difficult, an experience I’m sure many of you share. Finally, just before Rona and I moved here, a series of health events and related tests revealed that my father had tumors in multiple places. And, just over two months ago, the results of some of those tests confirmed that he has cancer that has metastasized to multiple places. He is not a candidate for recovery, so the treatments he is currently having are palliative in nature.
As my family and I have responded to this news, it has been difficult to be so far away. The distance has been particularly difficult over the past three weeks as my parents have experienced a crisis with their home that has necessitated them moving to temporary housing for several weeks as remediation and reconstruction work is completed before they move back in. Fortunately, insurance has made it possible for the work to be done and friends have offered housing.
I’ve had a trip home on my calendar since late spring, before I knew that things would develop this way. I will be leaving later this week to spend some time with my parents, help our daughter, Emma, move to a new apartment, and participate in leading the North Texas Annual Conference which meets this Friday and Saturday. It’s an anxious time to travel—I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do it due to the pandemic, and that was before the fires hit us all so hard. But some life events mean you simply have to do things in spite of the risk.
I wanted you, my new church family, to know about these things and to request your prayers for safe travel, a measure of comfort and healing, and memories that cannot be replicated. I’ll be seeing you along the journey and sharing my presence with you in small ways, even from Texas!
Then, I’ll be back here in Oregon as we help our community heal. May God grant us grace and strength for the days ahead.
Grace and peace,
Pastor John Fleming