Conference leaders tour Buffalo churches impacted by the Christmas blizzard
Editor’s Note: Jehovah Jireh Community Church is also a church that was severely damaged by the Christmas blizzard; while this church was not included on the tour, Bishop Héctor had already connected with the Jehovah Jireh congregation by preaching at their service held at a local community center where they are meeting until their church is restored. You can click here to watch the service.
Almost two months after the Christmas blizzard, churches in the Niagara Frontier District are still climbing out of the aftermath, but they are doing so with the utmost faith.
On Feb. 9, 2023, a team of Upper New York (UNY) leaders, including UNY Area Resident Bishop, Héctor A. Burgos Núñez; the Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries; the Rev. Carlos Rosa-Laguer, District Superintendent of the Niagara Frontier District; and Kristina Clark, Director of Disaster Relief and Missional Engagement, came together to tour some of the impacted churches still struggling after the blizzard.
The first stop on the tour was Cleveland Hill UMC. The team entered the chilly, unheated building and were greeted by Pastor LaVerne Ampadu and two of her trustees, JD and John. Voltaire, also a trustee, then arrived and the tour of the building began. Pipes had burst, so ceiling tiles had to be pulled out in two large rooms. The water was cleaned up, but the rooms were very damp. One of the churches two boilers had also broken down, leaving all of the church unheated except the sanctuary. The building also had no running water.
JD said, “Voltaire was instrumental in pulling out the ceiling tiles.”
Kristina Clark had organized two work groups to help with the cleanup at the church as well.
Bishop Héctor asked, “What were these rooms used for?”
Pastor LaVerne responded, “One was a youth room, and one was a children’s room.”
After the tour of the building, a dozen church members then sat down with the team to discuss their concerns.
Pastor LaVerne explained, “After the pandemic our church has been growing beautifully in diversity. When I came to this church, we didn’t have any People of Color. Now, we have Korean members, Filipino members, Black members, and Euro Americans.”
“We also are starting to see children. We have a single mom bringing her two young children,” she added.
Pastor LaVerne and church members have visions of a successful Vacation Bible School this summer.
The church is also a voting location.
Robin, the church treasurer said, “We need this place in good shape by June for the primaries. It seems far away, but it really isn’t. It’s already been almost two months since the blizzard.”
Bishop Héctor assured the church members that everything will be okay; he said, “Anything we can do to help, we are here. We’re in this together.”
Kristina asked the members to keep reaching out if they have questions or need assistance. She added that a check for $1,000 was issued to the church last week to cover the insurance deductible. This money comes from donations received throughout the Conference and a $10,000 UMCOR grant that was given to the UNY Conference.
The team concluded their visit with a prayer and words of encouragement from Bishop Héctor; he reassured everyone, “Today, I am claiming hope for your congregation. I am blessed to have experienced this time of fellowship.”
“I look forward to journeying along side of you. I look forward to coming back when there is heat,“ he said, with a chuckle.
The next stop on the tour was Buffalo First UMC, a large building, over 100 years old, with beautiful stained glass windows along every exterior wall. There, the team met with Pastor Dr. Scott Johnson and trustees Glenn, Misael, and Alex.
Pastor Dr. Johnson showed how the storm had busted out one of the large stained-glass windows in the church tower. He said he was in contact with a stained-glass contractor and also needs a general contractor to work on the window frame.
Pastor Dr. Johnson proceeded to give a tour of the rest of the church, showcasing a small food pantry that started during the pandemic and provides perishable goods, diapers, and more for the community.
Pastor Dr. Johnson explained, “Our niche is shut-ins; we deliver a lot of items to single moms, who were already struggling financially, and their income was exacerbated even more by the pandemic.”
He elaborated, “Our ministry emphasizes relationship building.”
Kristina mentioned that this ministry clearly focuses on the individual children of God; she said, “It is important to listen to the way Pastor Johnson speaks about the people the church is in community with through the food pantry. Every single person he talked about—he used their first name.”
Pastor Dr. Johnson explained how Buffalo First is situated in a unique geographic position in a neighborhood with a lot of poverty, crime, and people experiencing addiction.
Bishop Héctor has a deep passion for urban ministry and thanked Pastor Dr. Johnson for his passion and the dedication of the congregation to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community.
And then Bishop Héctor prayed fervently, thanking God for the work that Buffalo First is doing to share the abundance God has given them with their neighbors.
The final stop on the tour was Lincoln Memorial Church, a church that is deeply embedded in the community, with a nursery school, two music schools, a thriving food pantry, a clothing closet, and much more.
Pastor George Nicholas and Deacon, Rev. Vivian Waltz, graciously welcomed the UNY leaders and guided everyone to the fellowship hall, where over a dozen church members congregated to introduce themselves to Bishop Héctor and to thank him for taking time to visit them.
Pastor George first introduced Bishop Héctor to Ebony White, whose uncle was the first victim in the Buffalo mass-shooting in May, 2022, mentioning that the funeral was held at Lincoln.
Bishop Héctor said, “I am so, so sorry for your loss,” to Ebony.
Pastor George and a few active members of the blizzard cleanup then gave the UNY leaders a tour of the water damage caused by the storm; pipes burst and a boiler was destroyed.
On Jan. 7, 2023, an UNY trained ERT (Early Response Teams) team came together from nearby and hours away to help Lincoln UMC in the aftermath of disaster. The work involved removing carpet, vinyl flooring, and a ceiling damaged from a burst pipe. Cleanup work has continued with hundreds of hours of work from church member and Conference ERT teams. Another ERT team will form in the coming weeks to replace ceiling tiles.
Later this month, Kristina will be visiting Lincoln Memorial to provide them with a donation to go toward replacing their boiler. The church members are also selling delicious chocolates to fundraise for the new boiler.
Last month, when Kristina asked Pastor George how else the Conference can help, he said “What we need is reusable shopping bags for our food pantry.”
Kristina secured a donation of 2,500 purple reusable shopping bags to Lincoln Memorial from United Methodist Communications (UMCOM). When Kristina reached out to UMCOM and told them about the numerous tragedies the people of Buffalo faced in 2022, they eagerly said “yes” to being a part of the recovery efforts by supplying personalized bags for the food pantry. They are expected to arrive at the church soon.
The UNY leaders time at Lincoln was concluded with Bishop Héctor praying for the church in a circle with everyone holding hands. He expressed how encouraged he was by the collaborative efforts that have been happening to help Lincoln Memorial.
The spirit was so alive at Lincoln Memorial—the congregation members were filled with laughter and smiles in glorious fellowship.
Pastor George said, “The help we have received after the storm is the most I have felt the power of the Connection in my 20 years of ministry!”