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UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood (second from right) of the United Methodist Committee on Relief leads a prayer at a home damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy in Massapequa, N.Y.
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Photo Courtesy of OURWalmart
A protest sign needing no explanation.
Every so often it pays to be an "old hand" at United Methodism -- even though (snark alert!) everyone seems to want to jettison us veterans in favor of young folks, rather than try to help us learn how to capitalize on our respective strengths for the benefit of the entire church (snark over).
That's how it was this week when the Memphis Annual Conference announced the appointment of the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, longtime disaster executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, as its new director of connectional ministries for the conference.
Changes of this magnitude set off bells among many veterans, particularly when someone like Tom Hazelwood, who has been so successful at global disaster relief and recovery, refocuses his ministry on a more local level. This is particularly true these days when resources have been cut and many of us long-timers are being RIF'd, as the current lingo goes. (If you don't know, RIF stands for "Reduction in Force," meaning layoffs and firings. And if you didn't know previously what RIF meant, count yourself lucky).
One thing about us "old hands," we usually don't shy away from asking probing questions, so I sent an email to Rev. Hazelwood, whom I've met and spoken with a few times in the course of our respective ministries. With his permission, I quote his entire reply herewith.
Hello, Cynthia. Thanks for your message. You are correct in that I have been at UMCOR for 15 years and have 15 more before I will retire. As I personally assessed my ministry and future, it became clear to me that it was time for me to move on.
The loss of my good friends Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb had a profound effect on me. One may move on, but one never gets over losing two close friends and colleagues like Sam and Clint. So still feeling that loss combined with the fact that I am at a dead end career-wise at UMCOR, when this opportunity came along I felt compelled to accept.
This is not the first opportunity that has come my way over the years. My call to ministry is a driving force in my life and I have always felt that I would return to ministry within an Annual Conference. Though the timing is not good for my departure right now, I have come to realize there is never a "good time" to leave. I believe God opened this door for a new opportunity in ministry, and I have chosen to walk through it. Ecclesiastes 3 says that everything there is a season. I have been at UMCOR for a season and its time for a new season in my ministry. I also have no doubt that the change of seasons was precipitated by the loss of Sam and Clint.
For those who may not remember, Tom refers to the deaths of the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb, UMCOR's top executives who died as a result of injuries they sustained in the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti Jan. 12, 2010. Dixon and Rabb were in Haiti to discuss joint economic recovery efforts with other non-profit agencies when the quake struck, collapsing their hotel down on top of them. Dixon died while they were trapped in the rubble. Rabb held on until he was rescued and sent to Miami for treatment, where he died from his injuries.
With Tom Hazelwood's departure coming on the heels of the election of former UMCOR exec the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey's as bishop, it's certain that the agency, which has been the crown jewel of United Methodist outreach, is in for a time of considerable transition. Given the most recent weather disasters of Superstorm Sandy compounded by Winter Storm Nemo (as the Weather Channel names them), United Methodists should be patient with UMCOR operations as changes move forward.
Meanwhile, the loss of Tom Hazelwood's wisdom and expertise at UMCOR is a considerable gain for the Memphis Conference. He deserves a rousing, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
In another follow-up, Methodist Federation for Social Action executive Jill A. Warren also left her post late in 2012. UM Insight also questioned Jill about the background of her departure. She graciously replied that it was precipitated by two things: a need for MFSA to cut expenses after the cost of its witness at the 2012 General Conference, and a desire (once again) that younger people start to take leadership. Jill returned to her Michigan home, while Chett Pritchett, who served so ably coordinating MFSA activities at General Conference, took over as interim executive. Jill's 18-month tenure may have been short with MFSA, but she is remembered for the affable way she sought to engage United Methodists in the often-prickly work of social justice.
Finally, there's been movement on the Walmart front. For those folks who expressed concern that the UMC, given its erratic and sometimes harmful personnel practices, has no moral standing to criticize Walmart's labor situation, I offer the text of an email I received Jan. 23 from OUR Walmart, the employees' group with which I prayed and demonstrated on "Black Friday" last year:
On Black Friday, you stood with Walmart workers as they went on strike and took bold action to fight against Walmart's attempts to silence them.
It looks like we have Walmart's attention!
Last week [approximately Jan. 16] the company announced that it will provide the opportunity for its workers who want to work full-time to do so and will make schedules more transparent. Inconsistent scheduling and not giving workers the hours they need to get by have placed a huge burden on tens-of-thousands of Walmart workers nationwide. If done right, Walmart's pledge could have a positive impact on many lives and set an example for other employers.
"I'm so happy and proud our hard work and action has paid off," said Cindy Murray, a leader of the worker-led Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). "We won these gains at my store and now we're winning them across the country."
This announcement comes as a huge victory in the lives of workers. These changes have been at the heart of OUR Walmart members' calls since its creation and come on the heels of the largest nationwide strike Walmart had ever seen. Walmart's response shows that together, we're doing what many said was impossible - we are changing Walmart!
We hope that you will stand with us as we hold Walmart to this new commitment and continue to call for much needed changes in how the company treats workers throughout its supply chain.
Making Change at Walmart
This is good news for everyone. Here's hoping the spirit of negotiation brings about true justice for Walmart workers!