How a Cape Cod church connected with Buffalo-storm-impacted churches
The United Methodist #BeUMC campaign highlights ways in which United Methodist congregations across the Connection continue to live into the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” despite tension, division, and the turmoil that many people in the denomination are feeling.
Notice the hashtag on #BeUMC—that little character indicates the power that social media can have in sharing how God is at work through the United Methodist Connection.
In fact, it is through Facebook that we learned about an amazing testament to the power of the Connection.
You may recall that Community Church Jehovah Jireh in Buffalo was one of the Upper New York churches most severely impacted by the Christmas storm of 2022. The congregation has had to worship offsite in a community center since the storm.
On March 7, 2023, Cesar Galazara, pastor at Community Church Jehovah Jireh, posted a photo of a $10,000 check they received along with little notes in the shapes of hearts, expressing words of encouragement. In his post, Cesar said, “When things seem darkest, God shows his power and love toward us. Today my heart was overwhelmed when I received this surprise. God bless Osterville United Methodist Church, and their pastor, John Westley Taylor, who, without knowing us, and from the state of Massachusetts had it in their hearts to bless us in an extremely generous way. Not only did they bless us financially, they also blessed us with a great show of love through their words of encouragement and support. Community Church Jehovah Jireh will be forever grateful. Many blessings.”
Cesar added one more sentence, “I also want to thank Pastor Dave Nicol, who grew up in that church-and this is how they learned about our situation.”
When I contacted the Rev. David Nicol, who is currently the pastor at Hamburg United Methodist Church, he said to me, “This story is bigger than you know by a magnitude of 200 percent!”
Community Church Jehovah Jireh was not the only church in the Buffalo area that received a $10,000 check from Osterville UMC. Lincoln Memorial UMC and Hamburg UMC each received a check for $10,000 from Osterville UMC as well.
How did the congregants of Osterville UMC find it in their hearts to raise $30K for churches they didn’t even know?
Rev. Nicol grew up in Cape Cod and attended Osterville UMC. He went on to become ordained in New England and served churches in Massachusetts and Maine.
A personal situation led Rev. Nicol to move to Western New York in 2018. He was pleased to receive a cross-Conference appointment and was appointed to Hamburg UMC. He has been serving Hamburg ever since.
Rev. Nicol maintained close contact with his friends in New England, including Osterville UMC congregant Wendy Lithwin. Rev. Nicol used to babysit Wendy’s children when he was a teenager.
When the “blizzard of the century” struck the Buffalo area, images of Hoak’s Restaurant covered in giant icicles hit the national news.
Rev. Nicol said, “Wendy called my mom, who recently moved near me, and asked her if we were close to that restaurant. She told her that we were three miles away, but that aside from being snowed in, we were all okay. My mom told her how some were suffering much worse and explained to her about Lincoln UMC and how the damage at Jehovah Jireh was so bad that they couldn’t even worship in their church.”
Soon after this phone call, Rev. Nicol received a call from Osterville UMC pastor, the Rev. John Wesley Taylor, saying that he is going to hold a special offering for Buffalo churches. He planned it for mid-February as part of the church’s annual Sonshine Sunday.
Rev. Wesley Taylor explained, “While, I have only been at this church since July, I think it’s important to continue traditions. Sonshine Sunday is held every February to remind us of the warmth of the Holy Spirit.”
For Sonshine Sunday, which was Feb. 12 this year, Rev. Wesley Taylor wore a bright orange Hawaiian shirt.
He asked Rev. Nicol to produce a video explaining the damage experienced by Buffalo churches.
Rev. Nicol said, “It wasn’t well produced, but my face was enough.”
In his video, Rev. Nicol described the water damage that Lincoln and Jehovah Jireh experienced. He explained how Lincoln is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Buffalo and that their church serves 200 people a week through their food pantry. And that Jehovah Jireh is a Hispanic congregation, also serving their community on a weekly basis.
“I hope this will inspire all the generous people in the wonderful place where you are to look beyond your neighborhood and offer hope to the world,” Rev. Nicol said at the end of his video.
Little hearts with John Wesley’s saying, “My heart is strangely warmed,” were in everyone’s bulletin and on the pews. Congregants were asked to write inspiring messages on them to go to the Buffalo churches and to place the notes in a collection plate with financial donations if they were able. Sunday school children were also given hearts to write notes or draw pictures.
To Rev. Wesley Taylor’s surprise, $31,000 was collected.
He was so shocked; he said, “I asked my secretary if she was sure the collection wasn’t $3,100. I would have been thrilled with $3,100! She assured me that it was $31,000!”
Rev. Nicol said, “It was just the providence that I was appointed to Hamburg when we asked to go to Upper New York…I’m just a catalyst. I didn’t really do anything. This is just the way things work…I’ll do my little piece and you do your little piece, and it works.”
On March 12, the Rev. George Nicholas, pastor at Lincoln United Methodist Church, presented a card sent to him from Rev. Wesley Taylor along with the hearts…and had Rev. Nicol describe the other thing that was in the card…a check for $10,000.
The congregants gasped with joy.
Rev. Nicholas, said, “Because Pastor Nicol spoke up; God showed up!”
Rev. Nicol said, “We need to stay in a relationship with each other. When there are needs, these relationships provide even more than the structure can do. You never know what the connecting point might be or the groundwork. We give our lives to Jesus and making connections can change lives.
This is what we should be about…sharing the Gospel and working together.
What I am interested in is how the Connection can have a positive impact—I’m thrilled to be an accidental part of it.”
But was it an accident or was it God?
Rev. Wesley Taylor said, “God specializes in what we think is impossible.”