September 8, 2011
Two nights ago I arrived home to find no power on the property. So much for plugging in the laptop and writing a blog post! But I got the flashlight, managed to warm up some dinner on the gas stove, then went to bed early.
The power outage is a recapitulation of last week when we lost power due to Tropical Storm Irene. Today as I write, driving rain is pouring down for the third straight day, the backyard has become a pond, flash flood warnings are in effect, and we fear the ground is so saturated that more trees will uproot themselves onto surrounding power lines. Hopefully not on the house.
Yet my worries are minor compared to fear and damage in other parts of the country and the world. If you’ve been following the news, you can’t miss the fires, storms, droughts, and human inflicted violence in almost every region. Alongside current news, it’s a time of remembering past disasters of Katrina and 9/11, still trying to find ways through their emotional and physical impacts years later.
In these conditions, I just can’t stop thinking about emergency preparedness. The irony is most of us never want to think about it. We may feel “it won’t happen to us.” Or that we have “more important things to do” today. We may be stuck in fear, preferring to focus on tangible projects in front of us instead of the scary “what ifs.” At least this much is true: planning for a future that may never happen carries little urgency. With so many pressing concerns or joyful activities of congregational life, emergency preparedness almost never makes it to the top of the to-do list.
But we’ve got to do it. Not only to try to protect our own lives and properties, but because others depend on us. When trouble hits, a local congregation can shine as a beacon in the dark, thrust profoundly into Jesus’ care and service to others. Yet we can only do this well if church leaders, individually and collectively, are ready. The less injury and trauma we suffer ourselves, the more we can respond to the needs of others.
Here’s the help I can offer you. First, three articles from the Vestry Papers archives to trigger your thinking and motivation.
- Flames and Faith - Told by a priest, the story a church property that burned down and the lessons they have to share with others.
- Faith Forged in the Fire - Told by a lay leader, the story of a parish in New Jersey responding on September 11, 2001. (The other articles in this archived issue Leadership in Times of Crisis are relevant, too.)
- Avoid Unhappy Surprises - An interview by the Editor of Vestry Papers with staff at Church Insurance (part of the Church Pension Group), laying out the basics of church insurance policies. These principles are excellent and relevant, but since the article was written a few years ago, be sure to check up-to-date costs and plans before acting.
Second, excellent practical resources to get started. Created specifically for congregational leaders, these tip sheets and workbooks will make your planning process clear and effective.
- Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Preparedness Initiative provides an excellent online Resource Library of free, downloadable tools to facilitate the sharing of information and best practices throughout the Church. Included are planning guides for individuals and families, success stories from Episcopal congregations and dioceses, and a very user-friendly preparedness planning workbook for churches.
- The National Disaster Interfaiths Network’s Be a Ready Congregation campaign. Key to this campaign are the Disaster Tip Sheets for US Religious Leaders, offering best practices and resource links about all aspects of preparedness, response, and recovery, as well as connecting faith communities with public partners in emergency management, health, and human services. The campaign will regularly release new Tip Sheets and you can sign up for a free monthly newsletter for updates.