By Woody Woodrick
On Aug. 28, few folks in
That changed on Aug. 29 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into
Russell’s sentiment is shared by Mississippi Conference leadership.
“We know that each local church has unique wisdom, unique needs and unique gifts,” Ward said. “Each church has the capacity to create a plan that will care for the congregation while reaching out to those impacted in the community and beyond.”
The first question asks how a church will contact its members following a disaster. Many churches and communities in
“The wisdom shared on every airplane flight applies: In the event of emergency, put on your oxygen mask first. The first step is to care for the congregation so that the congregation will be strengthened to be light in the world, through the grace of Jesus Christ,” Ward said.
That’s the centerpiece of Court Street’s plan.
“We think we are in a lot better shape in case an emergency happens,” Case said. “It’s a quicker way to track people. Our shepherds are expected to drive to homes to check on people if the phones aren’t working.”
Shepherds are volunteers who are responsible for the Court Street members in a geographic area.
Case said the church sent out questionnaires to each member asking for emergency contact information and for information about skills and resources they could offer in a disaster. The church then plotted the location of every church family on a map and divided the families into groups of eight to 10 with a shepherd responsible for each group.
“I think people appreciate it,” Case said. “It’s still a work in progress. We’ve gotten a lot of good information about emergencies to people.”
Case said Russell addresses the congregation about once a month, offering tips on personal disaster preparation such as making sure flashlights with working batteries are available or reminding folks to have other supplies gathered in advance.
Court Street began its program in April. In May, Ward met with disaster response coordinators from each of the conference’s 11 districts and other leaders to push preparation. She expressed at that meeting that in addition to taking care of its own members, each church can do something to help affected communities. She said the aid can range from providing temporary housing to preparing flood buckets to training response teams.
St. Matthew’s UMC in
“They had gotten to the
“(The volunteers) wanted certification to get in early. When you are certified you are notified that you might be needed. The volunteers wanted to know some of the critical factors such as safety – how to keep a team safe – and the process of finding out where the needs are.”
Thirty-two members at St. Matthew’s completed the training, Woodrick said. The church has also purchased a trailer and equipped it with tools needed by early responders.
The Rev. Steve Casteel, Connectional Ministries director, said the conference plans to offer additional early response team training events.
Ed Blakeslee, who is coordinating Katrina recovery for the conference, also encouraged each church to develop a disaster plan and to share those plans with the district and conference.
“What I would like to see is that the conference has a plan, the district has a plan and each local church has a plan, and that all of these plans are integrated so that we know ahead of time how we are going to use the three multipurpose buildings (under construction on the Gulf Coast) and what role each church will play,” he said. “Some churches might be distribution centers; churches with showers might house teams, etc.”
Those involved said the blessings of a disaster plan run both directions. Woodrick said volunteers from St. Matthew’s have many stories of how they were able to assure those in affected areas that the church cares for them and wants to help.
Case said Court Street has learned that no church is too small to play a role in disaster response. While the plan has not had to be activated, he said the church already benefits.
“It is empowering for us. People are confident, won’t feel like victims and that we can be healers and bring the community together because we have our act together,” Case said. “This is going to inject more confidence into our church. We see any kind of crisis is not a time to cower and feel sorry for ourselves. We can be a bright light in