Column: In Virginia Beach, caring for each other after the chaos of storms

A worker on Saturday, April 1, covers one of the homes damaged by the tornado in the Rock Creek area of Virginia Beach. A tornado that went through the Salem, Rock Creek and Buckner Farm areas on Friday, March 31, caused roughly $8 million in damage. About 400 homes suffered damage, including 10 that were condemned, according to the city. [File/The Princess Anne Independent News]
“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me/I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.”  — Matthew 25:35-36


VIRGINIA BEACH — The night of Friday, March 31, I was volunteering at a fund raising event for my stepdaughter’s gymnastics team when an alert suddenly sounded on my cell phone and many other phones.

It was then that I heard about a strong, fast moving storm that already had blown down part of a church in Chesapeake near the home of a volunteer I was working with. I then received texts asking if Salem United Methodist Church, where I serve as pastor, was okay.

It turned out that a few members of my congregation were close enough to check and make sure the building was safe and sound.

That night, I began to hear the news reports that in the nearby Rock Creek community, where several members of my congregation live, homes had been damaged by a tornado. Having previously had disaster response training through the United Methodist Church, I knew it was best to let the first responders do their jobs for that evening.

On Saturday morning, I was sure people in that community would be out cleaning up.  So I loaded a cooler with water and headed over to offer refreshment to those working on the initial cleanup and assessments. I saw the look of devastation and uncertainty on the faces of the folks I met.  Some took drinks. Some did not. Many folks told me thank you, but they already had water. They wanted me to save it for someone who may not have their own.

As I talked and prayed with folks over and over, the theme that came to me was gratitude and community. Everyone I spoke to said they were so glad to learn no one had died in this storm. Homes and things could be replaced, but families were still together.

What a sense of community. One family shared how they were out to dinner when the storm came through. After a window in their car was blown out, a neighbor went out in the rain and covered it with plastic so the car would not have further damage. People helped each other with cleanup and recovery, pitching in any way they could.  There were professional contractors brought in by insurance companies, but there were far more volunteers who just wanted to do something to help our local community get through this painful event.

Due to a lot of experiences of natural disasters, different faith communities have developed roles that are carried out in the initial cleanup all the way through the rebuilding.  The United Methodist Church already had work crews in our city to help with the rebuilding after the hurricane in October.

Those crews were quickly brought over to Rock Creek and Salem Lakes to put tarps on roofs of homes damaged in the tornado. Other volunteers from other churches helped cut up trees and other things that needed to be cleaned out. We will have teams of workers who will come to help rebuild homes that were damaged in this storm until everyone is able to be back in their home.

In the passage from the Gospel of Matthew above, we are told that we need to care for each other. So often in our busy and chaotic lives we get too insulated from our neighbors and communities. An event like that tornado calls us back to caring and helping others in our own communities. The rebuilding of homes will take time. The healing and rebuilding of lives will take even longer.

While I do not believe that God causes the storms, I do believe that God is at work in the middle of the storm and after. I hope out of this disaster we can learn to look out and care for each other even more.

The Rev. Bill McClung Jr. is the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church, 2057 Salem Road. Learn more about the church at

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