Afterwards, driving around town, I could see some houses of worship were flooded and some were not. Some of the congregations who were not hit by the flooding seemed to be inactive, while others were bustling with activity, passing out food, water and supplies, offering shelter and helping in other ways. What made the difference?
I had seen the same differences in congregation activity after Katrina, and had done some homework. Three things emerged in congregations that generously served their communities after a disaster:
1. Actively serving congregations were prepared.
Congregations that were out serving already had a plan for such a time as this. Some had dormant teams waiting to move into action. Others always kept supplies on hand.
Much has been said about disaster preparedness, but many disasters come like a thief in the night. Tornadoes may come without warning. Floods can come in a flash. Even hurricanes, which can be seen coming days in advance, thanks to satellite imagery and Doppler radar, may change course, and weaken or strengthen. No one is ever completely prepared for a disaster. Nevertheless, a written plan that ties to the mission of the congregation can make a big difference.
2. Actively serving congregations had an outwardly-focused mission and congregational DNA.
Congregations that were out serving knew their own survival was not their mission. They exist for the sake of the world. Congregations like this are looking for ways to engage people in need. A disaster drops needy folks all around you. If your mission is not the survival of your building or your community, but the healing of the world, what to do in a disaster becomes clear.
3. Actively serving congregations had capacity.
Some of the serving congregations were large, but not all. Still, they had to have access to resources, either through large budgets, generous members or a link to a wider community of support. This is where your judicatory or your organization’s national body can make a significant difference.
How the judicatory can partner with the congregation
The judicatory (synod, district, diocese, presbytery, annual conference, etc.) can be a tremendous support, or it can be indifferent and ineffectual. In some cases it might, in an effort to be helpful, create more problems than it solves. Here are some possible ways to engage.
Set up a Disaster Response Team. The team may consist of some of the following people:
- Chair: a recognized leader in the organization
- Communications: someone who can handle email, webpage, phone calls and social media to find out what's going on, network and rally the troops for response.
- Needs: someone who will actively listen for the needs of the community in the wake of a disaster, and keep track. This person will work with communications to fill those needs.
- Donations: an individual who will hailed calls of good Samaritans wanting to donate, and who will handle donations (solicited and unsolicited) when they come in, working the the needs person to get them where thy need to go.
- Logistics/Admin: an organizer who will work with the chair to handle administrative details, lists, securing locations, helping plan response.
- Volunteers: a person who will keep a list of all who have offered to volunteer, and who will put out the call for more volunteers, assisting with implementation.
- VOAD liaison: someone who will register your organization with the Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster, read their email updates and participate in the phone calls
Note: This is a rough and fluid list. It's hard to manage a disaster from ground zero, so who you tap to be on this team may shift depending on the location of the disaster and who is affected.