By Dan O’Mara
Tim Whitten’s fondest memories in ministry come from having served and advocated for others, both personally and professionally.
Whitten—who started Jan. 14 as disaster recovery director to handle Hurricane Florence-related efforts in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church—has had plenty of chances to do both since becoming a United Methodist in 2004.
Most of those opportunities have come in ministry at two South Carolina churches and one in Alabama, during his seminary studies at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, and while helping lead youth teams in Salkehatchie Summer Service and Alabama Rural Ministry, a United Methodist-related ministry similar to Salkehatchie.
“I enjoy the challenge of finding how to match the needs of a community with the resources available,” said Whitten, 39, a native of California who grew up in Alabama. “Each new ministry opportunity presents a unique set of challenges and rewards, and I have learned a great deal from leading congregations and ministry teams over the last several years.
“I will be relying a lot on those experiences in this new position.”
Whitten will report to the Rev. Kathy James, director of Connectional Ministries. The full-time position is funded by a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
“Tim brings experience in training and developing teams and starting programs that continue after he leaves,” James said. “His compassion for persons in need and his leadership gifts will serve the conference well. I am looking forward to working with him.”
Whitten will work from an office in Marion in the Marion District, which is centrally located within the area most affected by Hurricane Florence and its aftermath.
The September 2018 storm and subsequent flooding killed at least 55 people after making landfall in North Carolina, then striking northeastern South Carolina. It caused more than $1 billion in property damage in South Carolina, and at least $17 billion in damage in North Carolina.
“I’m really excited that Tim will be joining us in this important ministry,” said the Rev. Tim Rogers, superintendent of the Marion District. “We are blessed to have someone with the kinds of gifts and abilities he possesses in what looks to be another multi-year recovery effort.
“But Tim can’t do it alone. I encourage everyone to continue to volunteer whenever possible, and to pray daily for the people of South Carolina whose lives were devastated by this storm.”
In his role as disaster recovery director, Whitten will lead the development and implementation of a long-term Hurricane Florence recovery strategy, and recruit, train and supervise a recovery staff.
Disaster recovery efforts related to the 2015 floods and 2016’s Hurricane Matthew are expected to wrap up in the next few months, under the direction of Ward Smith.
Whitten will work closely with UMCOR, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission of South Carolina, UMVIM of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, local long-term recovery groups, the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office, South Carolina Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and National VOAD.
He draws much of his inspiration for service from Luke 10:25-37.
“The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks plainly about the responsibility we have to help our neighbor,” Whitten said. “Disaster recovery work within the UMC lives that message out.
“Jesus concluded that parable with the instruction to ‘go and do likewise.’ Disaster recovery is the UMC’s living out that commandment.”
Whitten didn’t grow up attending church, but he found a home at Loxley UMC in Loxley, Alabama, a small town across the bay from Mobile. Loxley UMC is where his wife, Julie Whitten, grew up and where they were married.
“Since the beginning of my faith journey, I have connected most with Jesus the Teacher and with the lessons taught in the book of James,” he said. “Walking alongside other people in all phases of their lives has allowed me to witness God’s work in some very powerful ways.
“Seeing the many ways that people lean on God continues to inspire me along my journey.”
Whitten is ready to hit the ground running in his new ministry.
“Toward the top of my list is to connect with those who have been a part of the response since the hurricane hit,” he said. “We have so many wonderful people in the South Carolina Conference and beyond who have given so much of themselves to help.
“Listening to and understanding their collective story will be among my top priorities.”
Ready to volunteer?
UMCSC Disaster Recovery needs volunteers to roof houses, repair siding, install sheetrock, repair floors and other tasks to return South Carolina families to safe situations. Whether you can help for a couple of days or a week, whether you have an experienced team or you want to come alone and work alongside new friends, whether you are young or old, experienced or not, local or out-of-state, your time and talents are needed. To volunteer, contact UMCSC Disaster Recovery at 803-726-3105 or [email protected].
By Dan O’Mara