More hurricane relief comes via church groups, just in time for a blue Christmas

Dec. 18, 2005 | by Rebecca Barnes

Hurricane Katrina and Rita continue to bring the federal government and churches together to aid those in need. This month, just in time for Christmas, another gift is opened as the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will begin to disseminate a $66 million grant from FEMA and the Homeland Security department to continue to assist hurricane survivors.

According to a news release from Katrina Aid Today, several church and para-church organizations, including Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Salvation Army church groups, have been chosen to work under the grant. They will be trained by UMCOR to help survivors identify sources of support, develop personal recovery plans, acquire access to services and take appropriate actions to bring them to self-sufficiency. 

Other more independent denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, report record breaking efforts to aid both Katrina and Rita victims.

The Nazarene church reports an unprecedented outreach during the hurricane season of 2005. More than $4 million has been sent to Nazarene Headquarters for hurricane aid, according to a church news release.

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, Incorporated (NCM, Inc.) will assess the total response of the church to give an overall picture of the denominational response. The final report, due out in February 2006, will:

1. Inform members of the extent of the response, both for accountability and evaluation; and to indicate the Nazarene’s collective potential for assisting in future disasters.

2. Serve as a testimony to those not affiliated of the Nazarene’s practical concern for others.

3. Inform political and civic leaders of the church’s investment in the larger community of needs.

In Christmas news, CBS News’ "48 hours mystery" will investigate the birth of Jesus Tuesday, Dec. 20, 10 p.m. ET/PT. According to a press release, host Maureen Maher will explore the lands of the Bible with Professor Ben Witherington, a conservative scholar and evangelical minister; Professor Michael White, a New Testament scholar at the University of Texas, and others.

In Christmas worship news, Northshore Community Church in Everett, Wa., has joined with the other U.S. mega churches in closing for Christmas and encouraging members to worship at home. In addition to Christmas Eve services, Northshore is also offering its 1,500 members a home worship kit complete with a sermon on DVD and interactive lesson elements for children. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., is also supplying a DVD in lieu of a Christmas Day service.

Calvary Chapel of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has reportedly reversed an earlier decision to close for Christmas. In response to a loud outcry from the community, Pastor Bob Coy said the church’s motives for closing on Christmas had not been clearly understood. So they’ll open.

Blue Christmas

The Grass Valley, Calif., United Methodist Church, will hold a unique Christmas service specifically aimed at people who may not be feeling the Christmas cheer.

According to the Associated Press, the church's half-hour Blue Christmas service will feature music, hymns, scripture and poetry designed for people who feel sad or depressed during the Christmas season.

This is the sixth year the church will focus on the hope and promise of Christmas as an antidote to those who are disillusioned by all the commercialism.

Pastor Barbara Smith said she became personally aware of the need when her stepchild once admitted that she hated Christmas because it brought back memories of her parents fighting.

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