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Presbyterians in two Mississippi presbyteries are aiding their neighbors in need after tornadoes


Churches in Leland and Greenville house first responders, and the mayor of Leland lends his limo service to help the people of devastated Rolling Fork get supplies

May 26, 2023

Tornadoes did significant damage to rural communities in Mississippi. (Photo courtesy of State Farm attribution license)

When tornadoes leveled neighboring Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in March, it didn’t take long for members and friends of Leland Presbyterian Church to spring into action to help neighbors who’d lost everything.

According to the Rev. Ann Kelly, pastor of the 130-member church about 40 minutes north of Rolling Fork, Leland members and friends showed up to staff a shelter for affected residents and one at the church to house first responders. They provided meals and accepted donations of toiletries and other essential items, toys, clothing, bedding and period products.

“Our mayor [Kenny Thomas] owns a limo service and a party bus,” Kelly said Wednesday. “He has made arrangements to go to Rolling Fork to pick up people so they can fill up on supplies.”

As the nearest PC(USA) church to Rolling Fork, one of the Mississippi communities most devasted by the EF-4 tornadoes, “We will work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to figure out how best to meet the needs,” Kelly said. “We want to be able to do what we can.”

Several of the first responders came from the congregation itself. Farmers who attend the Leland church had just completed their planting season, and “they had the freedom to put tarps on houses and use their [heavy] equipment for cleanup,” Kelly said. “It’s so early it’s hard to know what our niche is, but we’re working to discern what that is.”

The Rev. Dr. Greg Goodwiller, the executive presbyter and stated clerk at St. Andrew Presbytery in northern Mississippi who’s also the executive for the Synod of Living Waters, said he welcomed a three-member PDA National Response Team. The team worked with St. Andrew Presbytery and the Presbytery of Mississippi, which covers the southern two-thirds of the state, “to help us get a better assessment,” Goodwiller said. Based in Oxford, Mississippi, Goodwiller visited the Mississippi Delta and also stopped at First Presbyterian Church in Amory, Mississippi, which sustained some storm damage, including a collapsed chimney.

“I think our people are pumped about being in a place to help, particularly our folks in Leland,” Goodwiller said. “They’re talking about converting a floor of their education building into a long-term site for groups to come and work and stay” as they respond to the communities that need help.

“I think Presbyterians will be quite engaged in recovery efforts,” Goodwiller said, and that includes First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, Mississippi, which is about 15 minutes west of Leland and is also being used as a staging area for responders. “We are working with PDA to get engaged.”

The Rev. Bob Madsen, regional presbyter for both the Presbytery of Mississippi and the Presbytery of South Alabama, said he’s grateful PDA “transcends denominational boundaries to minister to persons in need.”

“Having served a congregation in Gulf Shores, Alabama, that benefited from the generosity of PDA [donors] following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, having had the opportunity to work through PDA following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and also in response to flooding in Nashville, Tennessee, I know firsthand what good work PDA does,” Madsen said.

The Rev. Jim Kirk, PDA’s Associate for Disaster Response in the U.S.A., said that while PC(USA) churches in the region were for the most part undamaged by the tornadoes, the immediate response  showed “the connectional nature of the Church.”

“There is pretty significant engagement,” Kirk noted. “Both presbyteries want to do everything they can to bring resources to help those impacted. … It’s a wonderful example of how, as a connected denomination, resources can be brought into impacted communities.”

“Through the generosity of Presbyterians around the denomination,” Kirk said, “PDA is able to partner with the presbyteries to ensure denominational support.”

To help Presbyterian Disaster Assistance respond quickly to catastrophic events, including the Mississippi tornadoes, make a gift by clicking here.

 Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Two Mississippi presbyteries assist neighbors after tornadoes caused damage

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jayne Culp, Program Assistant/Moderator Assistant, Office of the General Assembly
Norma Cunningham, Accountant/Investments & Audits, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

Creator of all we see and all we cannot see, your Spirit has been with us from the beginning and will be with us through all time. We thank you for the gift of life, and for the gift of the earth that is our home. May we live with gratitude in our hearts each day as we seek to be faithful witnesses of your good news. Amen.

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