Director of Communication, Michigan Area
FLINT MI….Tucked in back hallways and stacked along the walls of nearly every room inside Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, Pastor Maurice Horne walks past hundreds of cases of clean drinking water.
Lincoln Park, like the other seven United Methodist Churches in Flint, Michigan have become an oasis of clean drinking water, testing kits, filters and trusted information for their communities. The churches are surrounded by neighborhoods ravaged by a water crisis that has shocked the nation and brought the spotlight of the world to a town that has already seen its share of suffering.
Home to over 100,000 residents, those living in Flint have struggled with the consequences of being exposed to highly contaminated water that has flowed from their taps since 2014. The tainted water has exposed more than 10,000 children and the elderly to dangerous levels of lead. Months before local and state officials were forced to acknowledge and respond to the crisis, United Methodist churches began distributing cases of water, filters and information to surrounding neighborhoods.
“By the end of the year,” Pastor Horne said, “We will have brought cases of water to every single house within a mile of this church.” With a humbled smile he added, “People keep saying, ‘Thank you for caring for us.’”
Lincoln Park was one of a number of churches visited last Thursday by Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey. The bishop toured three Flint churches and then met all eight area pastors and local church leaders to bring words of encouragement and support. “I want you to know we are with you,” she said to the pastors. “We appreciate how much you have done to help your communities and want you to know that you are not alone.” Two weeks ago, the bishop called for a special offering to help the people of Flint. The offering has already brought in thousands of dollars from across Michigan and the nation and will be used for the immediate purchase of water, filter and other needs.
At Asbury UMC in downtown Flint, Pastor Jeremy Peters said other forms of aid have also been pouring in from across the United States. “We just unloaded a semi filled with water from Ferguson, Missouri.” He said, “As soon as trucks appear in our parking lot, people begin lining up for the water and filters.” All the pastors indicated they were thankful for the assistance that they were receiving, but recognized it is difficult to keep up with the needs of this community in crisis.
“No ID, no questions asked. Every house in our neighborhood gets water.”
The scope and seriousness of the water crisis in Flint is difficult to comprehend. Experts believe it will take years to replace the aging infrastructure and until then every drop of water must be either filtered or trucked in. Asbury UMC Pastor Tommy McDoniel described to Bishop Kiesey how many of their residents are without cars and must carry the 25+ pound cases of bottled water by foot each day. “We have lots of door-to-door deliveries.” He said, explaining how the church delivers water to the elderly and others unable to carry the heavy cases of water. “They need it for drinking, cooking and washing,” he said, “They need it every day.” McDoniel says bottled water is helpful but they are working to equip residents with Zero-Water Pitchers that can filter the water prior to use.
McDoniel also shared with the bishop the need for The Untied Methodist Church to be actively engaged in educating the community. Residents have little trust in local and state government after it was learned that contamination levels were known to officials months prior to the release of information. Media reports of the crisis have helped encourage people to come to United Methodist Churches for clean water and testing services, said McDoniel, but it also has brought a level of panic to the community. According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, long-term exposure to lead can create irreversible effects on child development and behavior. In both growing children and the elderly, high levels of lead exposure can cause serious illnesses and even death.
Assisting minority communities has also been a focus of The United Methodist Church. “The Mexican consulate in Detroit visited us recently,” explained McDoniel, “To help us determine the best way to serve the Hispanic community in our area.” Reports that some aid stations would not release clean water without identification caused some residents not to seek out clean water and filters. “No ID, no questions asked.” Said Pastor Horne of Lincoln Park UMC, “Every house in our neighborhood gets water.”
The United Methodist Church has been quick to respond and expects to be in Flint for the long haul. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) quickly released a $10,000 emergency grant to deal with the crisis, the Detroit Annual Conference has hired a Water Crisis Coordinator, and Michigan Area Bishop Kiesey says the church will continue to seek financial and other tangible ways to help the people of Flint get through this crisis long after the attention of the media leaves. In a recent message to the Michigan Area she urged, “May we, Michigan United Methodists, continue to be a source of hope, a voice for justice, and a presence of compassion.”
Here is how you can support the people of Flint, Michigan.