Pray for the Best … Plan for the Worst
There are 80 churches in the Hudson River Presbytery, which comprises Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan counties of New York. The congregations range in size from a handful to several hundred. We pray for good weather, health, prosperity and peace in the world. We get what God gives us.
A disaster is defined as anything that causes human suffering or creates human needs that the disaster survivors cannot alleviate themselves.
Disasters occur everywhere. They can be natural or human-caused. Disasters may create psychological scars that require care even after physical needs are met.
A church must plan how it will respond to disasters, large and small, within the church and in the community. Plans need to be well developed and discussed by the church leaders and shared with the members. Families and individuals within the congregation need to participate in training to understand their role. A community action plan also needs to be developed for the churches response within the greater community of partners.
Our calling to disaster ministry is literally as old as the Scripture that is also our resource for worship, prayer and spiritual care. The knowledge of how to plan for disasters is critical in emergency management. Planning can make a difference in mitigating the effects of a disaster, including saving lives and protecting property, and helping a community recover more quickly from a disaster.
Religious groups have a long history of working together to respond to emergency needs – helping to build, rebuild, and renew communities after disasters. God’s people know the saving grace and power of God and God’s love for all creation.
Not all congregations have shown an interest in preparing for a disaster within their own bounds. If a congregation has not experienced many disasters in recent years, it is hard to sustain support for work that is perceived as not really necessary. In those congregations that still have a memory of disaster, going back to that place is painful. So, many churches put off preparing for a disaster until it is absolutely necessary.
A church will miss valuable opportunities to minister if it is not prepared. By planning before a disaster occurs and coordinating with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, local government agencies, The Salvation Army, and local American Red Cross chapter, a church can be prepared to minister fully in a time of crisis.
Part of the local church’s disaster relief plan should consider the needs of individuals and families who have experienced disasters in their lives. These plans might include ministries such as a food pantry, clothes closet, and/or financial assistance. Preparedness is an essential part of the plan and can be achieved through training for families within the local church and community.
Further, congregations play a unique role among disaster agencies because people of faith recognize the sanctity of all human life. Along with responding to the spiritual and pastoral needs of survivors, they may also be called to advocate for the equitable allocation of material resources according to need following disasters. After a disaster strikes, individual congregations — in cooperation with the wider religious community — perform several important roles in response to a disaster. These roles include
- Comforter – The faith community recognizes the sanctity of all human life.
- It renews people and their communities after a disaster.
- It helps survivors find fellowship and friendship, and share their stories.
- It provides a larger vision of life that includes emotional and spiritual care as well as physical rebuilding.
- It restores and rebuilds community relationships.
- Compassionate servant -The faith community offers spiritual care and physical relief to all persons in need.
- It focuses on relief needs, especially of those who are most vulnerable, regardless of economic status and regardless of political or religious affiliation
- It seeks out unmet needs of people who were vulnerable and marginalized before the disaster.
- Advocate – The faith community advocates that material resources be distributed equitably, according to needs
- It stands on the side of the oppressed to offer advocacy with and for those most in need
- It seeks out unmet needs of people who were vulnerable and marginalized before the disaster
- It provides a larger vision of life that includes emotional and spiritual care as well as physical rebuilding
- It assists in long-term recovery of those in need, regardless of the type of disaster that occurred
- It restores and rebuilds community relationships
The Presbyterian Church USA, along with other U.S denominations and communions work together to promote good stewardship of resources and prevent duplication of services in responding to disasters and meeting needs of refugees through Church World Service (CWS), a coordinating organization which they formed in 1946 following World War II. Major disaster response organizations, including American Red Cross and federal government, look to us and CWS to coordinate faith community efforts in the response. Within this context, you and your congregation, are vital links in a huge network of responders to disasters in the U.S. and around the world.
About This Course
This course has three overall goals:
- To assist churches to prepare for disaster by developing strategies for preparedness
- To create plans for response activity within the church and community
- To assist churches in developing training to prepare and respond to disasters
The lessons in this course include:
- Emergency Management Overview
- The Faith Community & Disaster Ministry
- Mitigation: Reducing Your Community’s Vulnerability
- Preparedness: Foundation of Effective Response
- Response: Your Call to Service
- Response: Special Considerations
- Recovery: Moving From Agency-Based Assistance to Community-Based Cooperation
- Responding to Disasters Outside Your Community
This independent study course is designed so that you can complete it on your own, at your own pace. Take a break after each unit, and give yourself time to think about the material, particularly as it applies to your church, your responsibilities and the situations you have encountered or anticipate encountering on the job.
There is no final exam. If fact, we should all pray that none of us ever has to use the knowledge from this course or the emergency plans you prepare. But you should be prepared for whatever unfortunate event might occur in your church or your neighborhood.
You should also know that how much you learn, there is always more that can help you. Don’t be discouraged. Learn all you can fro training, experience, and news of how others have fared in the wake of bad times and from new ideas and procedures that are constantly being developed.
This course contains content from the documents Prepare To Care and Community Arise from Church World Service, and the PDA Disaster Response Management Guide from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Also used extensively is the 2012 Church Preparedness for Disaster Relief from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In some cases, the Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101, Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is used as a guide. All these documents are recommended reading as you move forward with your emergency/disaster planning.
Every effort has been made to acknowledge the source of content as it is used throughout the course. We apologize in advance for any omissions.