United Methodist Relief Worker

“Naked came I from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.” --
Job 1:21

The Rev. Matt Lacey relies on the Book of Job as he drives from the top of Alabama down to just north of the state capital of Montgomery to assess the havoc wreaked by the largest string of tornadoes in the nation’s history. 

“It’s the classic example of a faithful person of God wrestling with difficult questions and answers. It’s a powerful book and a prophetic voice in times like these,” said Lacey, who received his Master of Divinity from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in 2008 and is leading the disaster relief effort for the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Hundreds of thousands of Alabama residents fell victim as tornado after tornado trounced violently through their state late in the night of April 27. By the time the terrifying winds stopped, more than 170 tornados had attacked the Southeast and turned communities into piles of lumber and twisted metal. Thousands lost their homes. Hundreds lost their lives.

Lacey, who also serves as senior pastor of Woodlawn United Methodist Church in Birmingham, says it’s been extremely challenging to marshal some 500 volunteers and relief supplies to residents throughout the top half of the state. It’s a job for which he’s had no formal training or experience, but one he relishes nonetheless.

“Jesus made probably his strongest case for the need to pay attention to those in need, whether from natural forces or societal issues,” he said. “I have a special passion for disaster relief. You see a great need and do the best you can with what you’ve been given.”

Ministering under these circumstances isn’t much easier. “Helping people cope is challenging. Whether they’re on the end of giving or receiving relief, or at one end of the faith spectrum or the other, they struggle to reconcile what’s happened with God’s movement in the world,” he said.

And that’s where the Book of Job comes in. Right after the storms, when it was safe to go out and tour the devastation, Lacey encountered a lone woman who stood out among others. She had lost her home and was wandering without food, shelter or any idea of what to do next. She talked, he listened. Then, he offered her the comfort of Job.

Within a couple of days of their conversation, he saw her again and she’d had three square meals. A few days after that, a total stranger had offered her a place to live. The last time Lacey saw her, she was filling out her Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork.

“She told me she was beginning to see what it would be like to feel whole again,” he said.

Lacey also relies on his Candler mentor, Professor of Church and Community Luther E. Smith, Jr., whom he’s been thinking about every day since the crisis began, and at least weekly before that. “Professor Smith helped me discern what it means to be a follower of Christ. Candler has among the most thoughtful, formative faculty in seminary. I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for them.”

This story is one in a series that illustrates how Candler School of Theology prepares real people to make a real difference in the real world. This piece focuses on Candler’s Real Commitment: We come together in Christian community to learn, to pray, to minister, and to serve God and the church.  Read more about what makes Candler “Real.”