July Movement Café:

Disaster Response

July 19th 2023

10am PT / 11am MT / 12pm CT / 1pm ET

Sponsored by the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement, the informal, virtual space of the Café facilitates conversation, connection, and community focused on creation care and justice issues.


Trish Warren
Florida Annual Conference Conference Disaster Response Coordinator

Trish works to ensure her conference is prepared for the next disaster, by ensuring the conference churches have a plan, so they can better respond to disasters in their community.
Trish was Regional Team Leader during Hurricane Irma and has led the conference response to the Champlain Towers building collapse in Surfside, as well as the response to both Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
In addition to her responsibility in coordinating the conference response to disasters in the state, Trish also works with local churches to support refugee resettlement.
Trish, who is a Georgia native, is married and the mother of three children. She and her family lives in Lakeland and attends First United Methodist Church.


Brian Mateer
Director of Missional Engagement for the Western North Carolina Conference

Brian is the Director of Missional Engagement for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  His role at the WNCCUMC includes Conference Disaster Response Coordinator (CDRC) and staff liaison to the WNCCUMC Creation Care team.  He was commissioned as a UM Earthkeeper in 2021. His earth keeper project was the development of eco-focused mission journey trips to disaster impacted areas.  Brian lives in Charlotte, NC, is married, has four daughters and two dogs.


Dan Wilcox
Pastor and Alaska Conference Disaster Response Coordinator

Dan Wilcox is a United Methodist pastor in Anchorage, AK, and also serves as the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator for the Alaska Conference.  He has served in this capacity for 8 years, during which he has helped in response to wildfires, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, and typhoons.  He is a member of the Alaska Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (AKVOAD), where he helps to coordinate the efforts of various non-profits, state, and federal partners in disaster response.  He lives in Anchorage, AK with his wife and five children. 

Disaster Response

Couldn’t make it? Here’s what happened.

At the July 19th Movement Café, participants heard from United Methodist leaders from all corners of the country about disaster relief and just resilience and its connection with climate change and creation care.


Rev. Richenda Fairhurst introduced the panel:

  • Rev. Jonathan Brake, a United Methodist elder, initiated the creation care ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference. He now oversees the Global Ministries EarthKeeper program. 

  • Rev. Cricket Denton, an ordained Conference Disaster Response Coordinator with the Order of the Deacons in New Jersey, is also an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church and the newly appointed Director of Student and Mission Ministries at Haddonfield UMC in Greater New Jersey. 

  • Brian Mateer is the Director of Missional Engagement for the Western North Carolina Conference, working as Conference Disaster Response Coordinator (CDRC) and staff liaison to the Conference Creation Care Team.

  • Trish Warren is the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator for the Florida Conference. Trish works to ensure her conference and local churches are prepared for the next disaster with a plan. 

  • Rev. Dan Wilcox is a United Methodist pastor in Anchorage, who also serves as the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator for the Alaska Conference. During his eight-year term he has helped in response to wildfires, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, and typhoons.

Trish Warren kicked off the discussion with an overview of Florida disasters and their impacts. For example, in 2022, tornadoes in southwest Florida in conjunction with Hurricanes Ian and Nicole killed over 150 and caused over $100 billion dollars in damage—one of the most deadly and damaging seasons in modern history. Research shows that climate change is escalating the intensity and frequency of natural disasters such as these hurricanes, and in states such as Florida, which is especially vulnerable, this upswing will mean more and more need for timely and adequate disaster relief.

She noted that her Florida Conference disaster team received a grant from Global Ministries along with the North Carolina Annual Conference for them to partner with the Footprint project and build a solar generator trailer. Given the number of power outages that occur in the wake of hurricanes and the fact that there are still homes without power that were impacted, these generators (which cost $10,000) would provide an important source of relief in disaster response. This project is in progress. 

She also noted that sea levels are rising in Florida. Given that Florida is primarily a coastal state, learning mitigation strategies such as fortification, flood barriers, and flood proofing is a great need, as well as helping educate communities. The Florida Conference will provide an opportunity for participants of the Café to attend a weatherization training.  

Brian Mateer was involved when Tropical Storm Fred hit Haywood County in the mountains of western North Carolina. Twelve inches of rain came down within eight hours, resulting in flooding and landslides. Six people lost their lives. It was there that he witnessed the solid connection between disaster response and climate change as well as the social justice issues embedded in this connection. He noted that those in underserved areas are disproportionately impacted, as well as communities of color, the elderly, and specifically in the Haywood County instance, migrant workers whose livelihood was impacted when the fields flooded. Additionally, wildlife was decimated with the flooding in a variety of ways.

Noting that changes in disaster response should be forthcoming, he began to work with others to look ahead to what could be done to improve response. With the support of the EarthKeeper training, and with his focus on the intersection between disaster response, climate change, and eco-justice, he found the genesis for his EarthKeeper project. He developed an eco-journey where the mission work was all about eco-justice issues. He also stressed the value of mitigation strategies where risk could be minimalized by strengthening riparian zones along coastlines and building more solidly structured homes. He also encouraged developing partnerships, building community resilience (Green Church initiatives, providing cooling centers, etc.), solar trailers and grid support, and advocacy. He noted that these are important because as our disasters get more frequent and powerful, we need to find a new way of moving forward.

Rev. Dan Wilcox reminded participants how vast a state his home state of Alaska is (663,267 miles in area), and that it has a very diverse population in terms of cultures and languages. That diversity adds to the challenge of disaster response. Many of the disasters in Alaska have impacted the Native Alaskan population including fires, landslides, typhoons, and flooding. Eighty-seven percent of Alaskan Native communities experience flooding and erosion as the result of weather events exacerbated by climate change such as coastal storms, permafrost thawing, and sea level rise. Community safety, infrastructure, and livelihoods are all impacted in a variety of ways.

Rev. Wilcox also noted prediction models forecast the future of sea-level change, erosion, and flooding driven by higher temperatures. Alaskans can expect more rainfall rather than snow, changes in agriculture growing seasons, melting of permafrost, and so forth. He showed slides from 2022’s Typhoon Merbok, in which over 22 villages experienced flooding, erosion, and loss of subsistence infrastructure.  

Reverend Jonathan Brake discussed the EarthKeeper program and how the training is designed to support EarthKeeper projects in churches and communities, particularly those in this disaster response arena because of the interconnectivity with creation care and eco-justice. 

He noted that he and the EarthKeeper team are working on programming that will ensure that mission projects are better set to be intentional and include an equity framework. He added that when disasters occur, the ones hit the hardest are usually those who don’t have the resources to move out of the way or don’t have resiliency incorporated in their homes.

This new mission training will encourage participants to do research beforehand to learn about the demographics and living conditions of those in those communities as well as looking at recent news reports that may provide more insights into what is happening in those communities. That way they will have a better understanding of how to support these communities. 

He encouraged those who have not become EarthKeepers to attend the upcoming EarthKeeper training, which will be held in three different locations this year to provide participants an opportunity to gather in person but will minimize travel. The training will occur October 5–8 in Birmingham, Alabama; Denver, Colorado; and Hartford Connecticut. For more information about this valuable program, please follow this link.

Rev. Cricket Denton wrapped up the panel discussion. Her focus was on how racism is evident in those impacted by natural disasters. Her research shows that black and Hispanic residents are more likely to be negatively impacted by these disasters even when income level is removed as a factor. However, lower socioeconomic status is a factor, as well, because people may not have enough money for repairs, may struggle to get loans or FEMA support, or may be renters, rather than owners.

In 2021, Tropical Storm Ida impacted over 80,000 New Jersey residents across 12 counties, disproportionately impacting people of color. As a result of this and other disaster demographics, the New Jersey Conference is focused on working toward eliminating racism. They have rightly defined racism as a sin as it devalues, oppresses, and dehumanizes someone God has created. To address this outcome, the conference is making changes including adding bilingual staff and bilingual materials. They are particularly focusing their support work on three counties that house communities of color and are the poorest communities in New Jersey.

They use the ACT model at their conference:

  • Aspire/Affiliate: Aspire to do better and Affiliate with other cultures and races; 
  • Comprehend: Work to understand what racism is—its origins, history, systems, and values and how to work to eliminate it; 
  • Transform: Change and work to eliminate systemic racism and systems that perpetuate it. 

She encouraged all to follow this ACT model and use it in all walks of faith, including disaster response.

The Café then broke into Zoom breakout rooms to further discuss these very important issues. 

For more information about this Café and about United Methodist work in disaster response and creation care, please go to this link.

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