United Methodist Committee on Relief


UMCOR executive reflects on the intersection of Ash Wednesday and disaster recovery.
On Staten Island in New York City, snow falls like ashes on random pieces of someone’s home which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Mike DuBose/UMNS

By Klay S. Williams*

February 13, 2013— Today is Ash Wednesday, a day when Christians around the world begin a 40-day sojourn of introspection to plumb the meaning of the cinders we wear. We are invited to travel with Christ, occasionally to rest at his feet, and to journey on with him, knowing there will be suffering, and trusting there will be new life. Ash Wednesday invites.

This year, as every year, millions of our sisters and brothers are pondering this Lenten invitation in unfamiliar surroundings, thrust from their homes or their routines by natural or human-caused disasters. Foreign as their post-disaster lives may feel, Ash Wednesday reminds them—and us—that they are not alone. Ash Wednesday unites.

“The Lenten season is an invitation for people to turn inward and reflect on their lives, in relationship to Christ,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). In a similar way, he said, “Anytime there is a disaster, it causes one to pause.”  Ash Wednesday focuses our attention.

In recent years, myriad disasters—both in the United States and overseas—have brought us, whether or not we were directly impacted, to pause and attend that invitation to focus on who we are in relationship to Christ, to our worldwide human family, and to the Earth.

“When daily life is disrupted by disaster—even if it is not my daily life—it causes everyone to take inventory and re-think what is truly valuable and what is not,” said Hazelwood. Ash Wednesday unsettles

“Material possessions become less important, while cherished relationships with others grow in significance,” he continued.  Ash Wednesday re-orients

Our attitudes toward the Earth we inhabit also are challenged. “We are having more disasters, with more frequency, and greater intensity than we have seen in a long time,” Hazelwood indicated. “I truly believe that most of this is caused because we have not cared for the earth.” Ash Wednesday inspires stewardship.

Today, as we receive the cindery cross, may we do so mindful of our millions of brothers and sisters down the street and around the world whose lives have been disrupted by disasters, both sudden and chronic.

From those ashes may we open ourselves in Lent to seek to realign ourselves in relationship to Christ, to our worldwide human family, and to the Earth, while we pray to grow in unity, attention, balance, and compassion.

*Klay S. Williams is a writer and contributor to