Feb 28, 2017


Coal City Stronger
On Monday, June 22, as I was standing in the emergency room with one of my parishioners in Champaign. I received a message from a friend that a tornado had come through Coal City, Illinois. My last Sunday as pastor in Champaign was the day before, we were to move to Coal City in just 3 days. Though I was Facebook friends with several from Coal City, I only had two phone numbers. I called the first, it was Ken Miller our lay leader.  He answered the phone with a gentle calmness in his voice.   He had just returned from the crawl space in their home and everything was fine.  The other number I had was our church secretary…I called her and the report was not as good as she stood in her bedroom and was looking up at her roof missing.  By 10:30PM, reports were trickling in that this was serious, perhaps even more so than the tornado 19 months earlier. 
As my wife and I talked that night with our own move pending and plenty of packing waiting for us, we decided that Coal City was where I needed to be that next morning that perhaps I could help in some way.  But as I walked into the Coal City United Methodist Church, I discovered less than 12 hours after a tornado, was that I needed to make sure that I would not be in the way of what was already happening. The church had already become a place of refuge for those without homes, a distribution center of resources for those without, a sanctuary for those who needed peace, and a volunteer center for those finding some way to help in the midst of natural disaster. What I saw was people standing up in unity.
Every generation can speak of a defining historical moment in their time. Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, The Challenger Space Shuttle, 9/11. We can speak of where we were when we heard the news and the feeling that came about as we watched.  The same can be said for June 22, 2015.  Maybe it didn’t impact a global generation, but it certainly left it’s mark on the lives of those who sat in fear, on those who lost their homes, on those who lost some of their treasures, and for many lost a little bit of themselves that day.  So for good or for ill, we will remember where we were when Coal City saw it’s second tornado in 19 months.  
It is human nature to commemorate these days as the memories are forever etched in our minds. Some try to forget, but most will never forget. Some wonder why we would focus our thoughts on a day of disaster and loss, why even have a gathering or a plaque. But what we choose to remember today is what will leave the legacy.  You see, our challenge today is to not to relive a day when we were hunkered down but to enshrine the day when Coal City stood up.
Today is not a day to commemorate fear, it’s a day to commemorate when Coal City stood up to fear. Today is not a day to remember loss, it’s a day to remember when Coal City stood up to rebuild. Today is not a day mark chaos, it’s a day to mark when Coal City stood up with a plan to work with one another.   Today is not a day to remind us of when we were not together, it is a day to remind of us of when Coal stood up together in unity. Today is not a day to dig into the past, but it is a day to stand up and march forward together into the future.
Our motto has been CCStrong. Well, I just wanted to stop by today to say…We are CCStronger than ever because we stood up. While our culture gets more superficial and more divided with time, we are invited to be even more connected to something so profound that has withstood the course of history…we tap into a love and compassion that reminds us of who we were and where we were and then we live that same message. To be a part of a legacy is join with others in order to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  That’s what makes us stronger through these days…is that we don’t stay back …but we stand up and go forth and live in community.  

When the Adrenaline Runs Out

When the Adrenaline Runs Out
Rev. Bradley Shumaker, Coal City United Methodist Church
(Rev. Shumaker is the new pastor at Coal City UMC.  With training as a Crisis Counselor, he is the chairperson of the Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee of the Long Term Recovery Team for Coal City.)

It has been over a month since the EF-3 tornado swept through Coal City.  In these weeks that have followed, homes have been inspected, and either razed or triaged, families have either moved or scrambled to make repairs, businesses have shared resources, volunteers have cleaned and distributed, city leaders have listened and planned, school officials have sought out families, churches have opened their doors.  Needless to say, when you look at the statistics of damage and resource distribution, the one unmeasured piece in all of this is the adrenaline needed to make the push through emergency and disaster relief.  

I am new to town (moving here four days after the tornado) but I did drive up here 10 hours after the tornado to provide whatever help I could, and by the time I walked in the door of the United Methodist Church, the building had already been mobilized to be the Disaster Relief Center.  Along with the trained responders from the church, other agencies were gathering resources and setting up shop in the church providing case management.  Businesses, both large and small, were already on sight donating goods and services for affected families.  And people from all over the area walked through the doors of the church offering to help in any way possible.  Above and beyond the mobilizing of volunteers, was the quick response of those affected who had to seal up their homes, seek shelter, find temporary housing, and spend the days working with insurance agents and contractors. 

The immediate response from the affected and those serving has shown a month long sprint of amazing comradery among organizations, community among neighbors, trust among officials and residents, and true grit and determination from all involved to get through this initial push.  These are gifts made possible from the adrenaline rush needed to bring relief in a time of crisis.  But what do we do when the adrenaline runs out?  

While most have settled into temporary homes and returned to work, two thoughts eventually commonly come to mind: 1) this isn’t my home , and 2) I am tired.  The adrenaline that once fueled the transition has dissipated and reality sets in. When kids return to school, the tornado will be a topic of conversation and reflection among playground conversation.  When the first tornado drill takes place at school or at home, fears will resurface. When weather alerts once again hit our phones and radios, we will remember a time that was. When boxes don’t contain once precious treasures, frustrations will rise. When rebuilding hits a snag, anger will come out.  Again, what do we do when the adrenaline runs out?   

What is important is that we all need to know, no matter where you find yourself in the disaster (the displaced or the volunteer, the school age or the retired): you are not alone.  This is no flippant statement, but a true statement of community and care that makes the Coal City Strong moniker even stronger: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Not only are there others going through this, but there are resources available to all to talk through these fears, anxieties, and frustrations.  And even more, you do not have to walk alone on this journey to recovery.

Resources that are both faith based and non-faith based.  School officials and counselors are readying themselves for these questions from children.  Area agencies including hospitals, hospice programs, and the Salvation Army have offered counseling services to anyone who is in need. Your community churches and their pastors are here for you to walk with you through any spiritual or emotional matters you may want to address.  Small groups are forming (such as the women’s group meeting on Wednesdays at the Coal City Library) offering safe environments for conversation with others who were affected.   

When the adrenaline runs out, the comradery, community, and trust do not have to leave with it.  These gifts can be key to the long term recovery of individuals and our community.  May we make the Coal City Strong motto be one that we live through the way we move together.

Catching Up

It's been awhile, blogosphere.  I thought I would run a couple of old articles from the past couple of years that I submitted and ran in area newspapers. Maybe we can get caught up....

Jan 3, 2011

Dealing with Disappointment

The Christmas Hoopla is over. The New Year's celebrations have drawn to a close. That easy week between the two holidays has been met with this morning's day back in the office.

I was reflecting this morning on the fact that for the last 8 years, I have filled this time between Christmas and Easter and between NFL and MLB (yes, I live my life by the Church and sports' seasons) with ardent preparation for our adult mission trips to Juarez where our church would typically build four homes in an impoverished area outside of Juarez known as Anapra. The preparation would include recruiting, fundraising, prayer, making travel arrangements, building arrangements, paperwork, more prayer, collecting donations of school supplies and toys, writing devotions, planning ahead on worship, brushing up on my Spanish, etc. And in the process of planning and implementing, in the preparing and in the traveling, the success of every trip would be evident in the lives transformed, community built, homes completed, relationships rekindled, faces remembered, gratitude embraced, and love won.

But this year, I will have to find a new way to full that time, or better explained, a better way to fill that hole. We will be building two homes there this month, hiring Mexican labor to do so

The two trips had to be canceled this year due to the growing violence that finally hit too close to our daily route to and from Anapra. Now, this may not come as a surprise to many....especially if you pay attention to national news coverage. This border city across from El Paso, TX, has been the subject of media coverage and has earned the titles of "Murder Capital of the World" and "World's Deadliest City" as it eclipsed 3,000 murders in 2010. The events of this city was also the topic of an AP story that ran yesterday on the cover of our local newspaper in Champaign. While I can defend most of the violence as targeted (cartel on cartel, gang on gang) or isolated (at night or in the Valley of Juarez), it is the unexplained tragedies that stem from attempts at vigilante justice and the random attacks due to a lack of due diligence from law enforcement. The attack on the main thoroughfare from our team house to Anapra was enough for me to give in to the constant question of whether or ongoing involvement was too much a risk.

I made the decision on December 17, moved through the Christmas season, and enjoyed the break after Christmas. But coming back to work this morning, the decision is hitting me hard and disappointment is casting a shadow over my own understanding of who I am as a pastor. In the midst of the wonderful benefits that the families, the team, and the church receives from our commitment to Juarez, I walk away from every trip with the reassurance of my calling as pastor. More than any other venture or responsibility that occupies my yearly calendar, it is those two weeks every year that remind me more than any other that I am called to be in a local church to build community and to form disciples to transform the world because it takes the whole church to make this ministry in Juarez such a success.

So there is disappointment this morning and a hole that needs filled. I was told recently that I needed to perhaps develop a passion for something else rather than Mexico. Yet, everything I know about passion or feel in passion says that passion doesn't work that way. So "finding a different passion" isn't the answer. But in the midst of this disappointment ... there is hope. Because I know that "greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in that city." The place that was once bustling with business and tourists, that once was a place of amazing color, will again find its peace. And the groups that flooded the city in mission through the many organizations will return to the poor and hungry who will still be there ...waiting for us.

In many ways, hope is all we have. But on the other hand ... hope has an amazing sustaining power in our lives. I hope for the city. I hope for the church. I hope for the people. In that hope I know that peace will again one day reign and the love will win. I pray that I will be a part of such great things to come.

Aug 23, 2010

So About That Dream...

I caught grief from my mother yesterday (who was in church) indicating, "this is the first time I ever heard a preacher who didn't finish his sermon." That's what moms are for! So about that dream:

Saturday nights, rather than a full night of sleep, I end up taking a "nap" as I usually find myself awake the whole night wondering about the sermon and what changes need to be made. This weekend was no exception. I decided to lie down around 1AM as I was still discerning how this sermon would come to an end. Yet in the three hour nap, an amazing dream unfolded that perhaps answered my concern.

I dreamed of a Sunday morning. It was the Faith congregation, but the venue was my home church in Galesburg. The Galesburg First UMC is an old downtown church with a large traditional sanctuary (with at least 60 foot "cathedral" ceilings and a bell tower where bats love to live. A little secret about that church is that above the sanctuary and below the bell tower is a "corridor" (I am not sure of the correct architectural term) that allows maintenance to walk above the sanctuary and lower the lights to the floor of the sanctuary to be changed.

In that dream it was 8:15AM and my sermon was not complete for the 9AM fusion service. I was procrastinating, as usual, finding reason to explore the building where I once roamed as a child. As I made my way up the remote back stairwell, I came to a steel ladder that was attached to a wall. I climbed the ladder and came to a wooden door above my head, about the size of a manhole cover. I was convinced that this was the "corridor" above the sanctuary that I knew existed but never visited. I pushed open the door and climbed through. The room was more than a corridor, but a great hall with beautiful wooden arches of a light oak color and a lot of light.

There were people up there in this great hall watching down through the light fixtures watching the congregation below. They greeted me with a smile and welcomed me by saying, "We have been wanting to see you for a long time" (like a scene out of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail). They were the faces of my Sunday School teachers and mentors from long ago who once attended mu home church but who are no longer living. We talked for a few moments, only to realize that it was now 8:45AM and I needed to descend the stairs and return to my responsibilities.

But it was one older woman who I revered as a child for her dedication to the church, who placed her hand on my shoulder as I began my descent and said, "Bradley, you are needed by the congregation. Stop worrying about how it all ends ...they love you for being the you God created you to be."

I woke up before I returned to the sanctuary. But as I turned off my alarm and headed to the shower, I thought about what was going on. My "Egypt" is my ongoing fear of failure. At times it renders me powerless. That idea of letting people down hold me captive and enslaves me to the perceptions of others. And if I ended the sermon in a rather weak manner, than I was also failure in my own eyes.

Yet in hearing those comforting words from that cloud of witnesses (though in a dream)...I stood before the congregation this morning at 9:58AM and said, "I could go on ... but time has escaped us."

And as I write this to share with you and officially end the Sunday sermon, I think this is one of those transformative moments in faith for me that has drawn me deeper in trust with the One I have wrestled with mightily for a number of years now. In my own deliverance of fear of failure ... may my weak ending be one of hope for you.

In Jesus Name, Amen.