Disaster Response as Ministry

Published on: June 1, 2011

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How might Unity become a visible force to bring practical, spiritual comfort and healing to people at the worst times of their lives? Might disaster response be a valid Unity ministry?

The answers, of course, lie within. Begin with a dialogue to determine the extent of your congregation’s commitment to such a ministry. Then consider what distinctive offering you might bring to the disaster response table. On one level, Unity principles and practices are perhaps the most valuable contribution. On another, I suggest you ask some questions.

Might your facility serve as a temporary shelter? Might you provide spiritual support and/or an open door, spiritual safe haven? Do you have a volunteer corps of folks to “muck out,” chain saw, house and/or train incoming disaster volunteers?

If you have a local chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), learn what other resources have already been identified in your community. Also try your local American Red Cross and ministerial alliance organizations. For information on what other spiritual communities are providing, one good resource is Christian Disaster Response at www.disastercenter.com/agency.htm.

Find a local Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Homeland Security, or Emergency Management person, and ask “what gaps currently exist in disaster response in our community?” When I last asked, I learned of the need for trained advocates willing to walk traumatized folks through the maze of agencies and services for which they might be eligible for assistance.

Your own disaster preparedness is also advisable. What disasters might be most likely for your community—floods, tornadoes, earthquake, hurricanes, forest or wild land fires? And then consider those less likely—a downed airliner—hazardous materials spill, local shooting at a school, mall or other public location. There may be some for which you are not equipped to respond, so set some limits as to what you are willing and able to provide.

For “natural disasters,” I suggest that you consider the needs of your own congregation, particularly the elderly, homebound, and those without transportation. How would you locate dispersed members, and what communication plans are in place? What are the limits of your building’s insurance? Are you protected against water and wind damage, for example? Some Gulf Coast churches were denied coverage if they had only one type of insurance. Where do you store your church’s financial and other vital records?

Imagine the human challenges a disaster creates, determine your resources, your talents, where your passion lies, and make a plan.

Robert H Barnes
Robert H Barnes has an MDiv and can be reached at the Grace Unlimited website.

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