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Where do churches fit in when a natural disaster strikes?

In writing about this topic from the perspective of a Community Pastor at Clark Road Chapel in Whangarei, I am very aware that whilst Cyclone Gabriel did create a lot of damage up here, it is nothing compared to our friends in the Hawkes Bay, and nothing compared to our friends in Christchurch who had to deal with Earthquakes.

Personally, I did think a lot of CRC’s readiness to help our community if we should be needed.

Thought No 1: Where is your church placed?

Is your church and community in a flood zone, a tsunami zone, an earthquake zone? That is a massive conversation for a church to have around those implications and the “what if scenarios” if it happens in a service, or your church is rented out. Do you have emergency response plans in place? Even more and I know am guilty of this, how do you train, prepare and practice those different scenarios with your congregation, youth groups and kids ministries etc.?

Thought No 2: How efficient are your communication lines?

Recently in Cyclone Gabrielle we were quick to realise that connecting with everyone in the church can be quite challenging to do, unless you have a robust system in place. Is your contact list up to date, how to you communicate with the church via email and messenger and other online systems? Do you use your Connect Groups, Youth Groups, and other groups to connect with everyone in that group and let some one centrally knows who you contacted? I was also aware of looking in our contact book to think about where we all lived by location. How do we respond when we can’t get through to someone?

Thought No 3: Is the church part of your community?

In Whangarei, I am part of our local Kamo Community Facebook group. There are almost 6000 people attached to that page and whilst in general the posts can be varied, in an emergency, information goes up that is very first hand. I am also part of our businesses, community leaders and local emergency group which is a great communication tool in emergency situations and even lock downs. I would encourage all of you to connect to your local Civil Defence Co-ordinators with an accurate description of how you could help in an emergency, size and facilities of your church.

Thought No 4: What if your church is needed in an emergency?

At Clark Road Chapel we have 20 mattresses, 2 kitchens, stacks of cups and plates, 1 shower, around 10 toilets, up to date first aid kit, 20 trestles, 2 fridges, obviously lots of chairs, and other items. Think about how useful that is in an emergency situation. What most of us forget is that if we take away the chairs we have so much space available for bedding and looking after people. It is important to relook at your church and think about how you configure it optimally if the need arised. That made me think a lot about what we didn’t have e.g. camping lighting, blankets, enough basic food and so on. I also thought about security of expensive items in a church. What would also be your response if your church was needed over a couple of Sundays? At least Covid has taught us to be adaptable.

Thought No 5: Is your church family ready to mobilise if your church has a number of families staying there for an extended time?

At CRC we have a Care Team whose immediate function is to respond to an immediate need, e.g frozen meals, care packs for our families with new babies. We also ask everyone in the church to identify a gifting or practical help they could offer e.g mowing, baking, gardening, driving, visiting and so on. It would be awesome if people who could help in an emergency, would come with their baking and blankets, and be available to help those going through one of their worst days of their lives. What about the follow up when they do go back to homes with sending teams out to help tidy up a section and support our community as they rebuild.

I probably have lots of other thoughts, but as a Community Pastor I want to be prepared to show salt and light, and compassion, support, love and practical help when it is needed. I have also learnt that being intentional, and ready is so important in these situations.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

— Matthew 5:16

By Scotty Delemare, Elder & Assistant Pastor at Clark Road Chapel


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