March 2023
Disaster Preparedness

Staying Alive

On February 31, 2023, more than fifty members and staff of Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan sang their hearts out to “Staying Alive” in the parish undercroft. The Bee Gees had made enough of a lasting impression on all three generations represented that nobody was left rhythmless for this event. The collective hum of that inspirational bit of disco provided the steady beat we all needed to time our chest compressions well. Together, as Grace, we learned how to perform CPR.

Gratitude and a renewed call for emergency preparedness

We hosted this CPR and AED training from a place of deep gratitude and a renewed call to be as prepared for emergencies as we can possibly be. In October of 2022, a beloved member of Grace suffered a major heart attack while serving in our congregation’s food ministry program. John and his buddy Jay, had gone for a pick up at one of the donating grocery chains, as they had done many times before. It was a cold, rainy day, not unusual for mid-fall in western Michigan.

After checking in at the loading dock, Jay returned to the truck and found the usually bright and talkative John unresponsive. Jay had recently completed a course on CPR, so he knew what to do, and even in the horrific crisis of that particular moment, he didn’t miss a beat. He called 911, pulled John from the truck’s cab, began CPR and continued until the paramedics arrived.

John spent several days in the hospital. He had surgery, began his recovery and returned home. Before long, he was back at Grace and feisty enough to finish up his term on the parish vestry. Now he is acolyting again and advocating for social justice – and John and Jay’s ministry with the Food Club continues. Along with re-engaging in familiar activities, these two friends are also on a mission to get Holland designated as a “HEARTsafe Community,” a program designed to improve the outcomes in situations of sudden cardiac-arrest.

For all of us at Grace, getting trained in CPR and preparing for the disaster that cardiac arrest can be, was an act of gratitude for a life saved. The whole experience opened ourhearts to claim a gift that any of us could be called on to offer at any time. We partnered with Holland Community Hospital, which gladly provided the training. Given the circumstances that had led us to this, the training itself was a profound and tear-filled celebration for our community of faith.

The American Heart Association reports that every forty seconds someone in the United States suffers a heart attack. There is so much in this world that we cannot do, but CPR is not on the list. With just a couple of hours of training and a Bee Gees’ soundtrack of support, we can learn to save a life. This training will be an annual event at Grace for our members and for the greater community, too. We might even purchase a disco ball.

Miracles abound

As a congregation, we’ve prioritized CPR and AED training, along with other dimensions of emergency preparedness. In addition to the training, we have an AED machine in the church Commons and a portable one for outdoors or offsite parish events that we purchased with a grant from another local agency. It’s worth looking around, as that kind of grant support is out there.

Another way that Grace is working to be prepared is the installation of an updated security system that includes the use of silent call lanyards. They can be carried on the parish grounds or placed in locations like the sacristy, pulpit, children’s ministry area, Parish Administrator’s desk, or the choir loft. The lanyards have a button that can be pressed to silently summon assistance for a range of emergencies. Helpers are never far. We simply need to make access to them as easy as it can possibly be.

As we write this article for the Episcopal Church Foundation, we’re riding on the liturgical heels of the story of the raising of Lazarus. Our experience with John and Jay obviously falls far short of that in magnitude, but we at Grace would say that we have seen a hint of the miraculous play out here. In response, we are making sure that we’re prepared to participate in whatever miracles might be lurking ahead. Disasters strike, it’s true. But miracles abound.

In the meantime, we continue to pick up a few loaves here and a few fish there, gathering those gifts into trucks driven by people like John and Jay. Who knows, maybe on the way toward death and resurrection, we’ll end up feeding thousands who are themselves simply trying to stay alive.

Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Jen Adams has served Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan for more than twenty years. She graduated from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and has served not only in her local context, but also on diocesan and national church levels. A Michigan native, Jen enjoys spending time with her family and pets, soccer and the great outdoors.

Photocredit: The Rev. Jen Adams


This article is part of the March 2023 Vestry Papers issue on Disaster Preparedness