I’ve been doing some thinking (always dangerous, right?!) as I’ve listened to the news of the flooding in Louisiana. So many people have lost so much; it’s hard for me to fathom how one recovers from such a tragedy. The reports that I continue to hear project that the clean-up and recovery process will take years but, in the meantime, what do people do? Where does one go? What about all the piles of paper that fill our filing cabinets demanding attention and storage? What about the photos and heirlooms that can’t be replaced? I imagine myself in the situation and wonder where I would begin. Now, I know that God doesn’t give grace to face tragedies in advance so I’m sure that, should this happen, God’s grace would be more than sufficient to guide me through whatever “deep waters” I was facing. However, God has not left us powerless and without the brains to prepare for the consequences of life in uncertain times.
That leads me to this week’s two-part theme: 1. A discussion of how we might support the relief efforts in Louisiana and 2. How we might be prepared for the time a disaster happens within our diocese. So, let’s begin –
The record 30 inches of rain which fell in Louisiana resulting in massive flooding has affected more than 40,000 homes in both the Diocese of Louisiana and that of Western Louisiana. On August 15, I read a Pastoral Letter by The Rt. Rev. Morris Thompson, Jr, Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana addressing the flooding:. He wrote:
In the wake of the flooding in the Baton Rouge area, I wanted to touch base with you to let you know where we stand as a diocese. Over the weekend, I was in regular contact with many of our congregations and clergy. As you know, the severity and speed of this storm caught all of us by surprise.
On Saturday, we sent out an alert on our new Alert Media network through Episcopal Relief and Development. We are one of the “test dioceses” for this system. Through this, we were able to quickly ascertain if anyone was in immediate flooding danger. We also used it as an opportunity to gather all of the clergy in a conference call that was conducted this morning. We were very pleased with the effectiveness of this system and had almost 100% participation of our clergy/parishes across the diocese.
As far as flooding, this is where we stand: St. Francis, Denham Springs received 2-4 feet of water. Robert Bishop, the senior warden, emailed us this morning to report that they were able to get to the church to assess the damage. The other affected property is Episcopal High School. This morning I received an email stating that Hugh McIntosh was taking a boat to the property. As of yesterday, there was water in the gym, the Lower School and possibly the Penniman building. We will have further details after his visit. We are still unsure of the status of the former Holy Spirit property. Amazingly, neither St. Augustine’s, Baton Rouge or St. Patrick’s, Zachary flooded. The Senior Warden in Zachary reported that the water rose to within an inch of the front door and then receded. Several of our clergy had to evacuate their homes. The extent of flooding is still being evaluated. I have assigned a clergy contact to each of them to coordinate and assist with their needs.
Canon Manning and Deacon Elaine Clements are working alongside me to coordinate relief efforts through ERD as well as communicating with the parishes to match need with relief assistance. We have verbal assurance of immediate short-term funding from ERD for $20,000. This will be a significant help to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable victims. I have also asked Fr. Mark Holland to serve as a relief coordinator for the Baton Rouge area. In the days and weeks to come we will be moving from emergency relief to long-term disaster recovery and assistance. I will be in touch with you as we move through this process. Our friends in other dioceses have already reached out to offer their assistance.
At the bottom of this letter I have included important contact information for donations, relief and assistance.
Please contact the diocese if you need any other assistance.
I leave you with a prayer from Holy Women, Holy Men (Church Publishing, 2009):
Compassionate God, whose Son Jesus wept at the grave his friend Lazarus: Draw near to us in this time of sorrow and anguish, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are weary, encourage those in despair, and lead us all to fullnesss of life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Savor and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Bishop Thompson included links to helpful resources which highlighted where to send financial donations (Bishop’s Discretionary Fund: please make checks payable to The Bishop’s Professional Fund earmarked 2016 Flood Relief at Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, 1623 Seventh St., New Orleans, LA 70115) as well as suggested items that individuals and families need:
- Gift cards to local stores
- Unopened toiletries and hygiene products
- diapers and other baby supplies, individually packaged
- bedding-new, preferably packaged
- phone chargers-all types
- First Aid supplies
Donations can also be made to the following agencies to assist those in shelters:
- The American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/local/louisiana)
- Baton Rouge Area Foundation (http://www.braf.org/louisiana-flood-relief)
- United Way (http://www.unitedwaysela.org/flood)
- Second Harvest Food Bank with Rouses (https://give.no-hunger.org/checkout/donation?eid=91198 )
In the time since the letter from Bishop Thompson was shared, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) has set up a link to receive donations on their website: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/ Episcopal News Service reported:
“The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana has many strong lay and clergy leaders at both the congregational and diocesan level with extensive disaster response experience and connections,” said Katie Mears, director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program. “This experience allows for streamlined processes and wisdom about how to best serve the needs of their neighbors, both in the short-term, but especially in the weeks, months and years to come.”
Which leads me right to my next topic: Are we ready as individuals, congregations, and diocese should a disaster strike in our area? The Rev. Deacon Glenn Morrison, our diocesan Disaster Preparedness and Response Coordinator, has been working for the last three years to motivate us to complete disaster preparedness plans and our asset map information. When I spoke to Glenn yesterday, he reported that fewer than 10 congregations have filed their disaster plan with him. Glenn finds that when he speaks to congregations everyone seems motivated to work on their plan initially but the distractions of our busy lives and the seemingly remote possibility of a disaster get in the way as soon as he leaves. Let’s encourage one another to make preparedness a priority for our families and congregations!
Glenn shared the Preparedness Planning Guide for Congregations and Parishes (comprehensive version) which you can access here – (insert link for guide) Episcopal Relief and Development has a library of helpful resources for assistance in completing the guide and Glenn will also be happy to help any congregation that asks. You can find ERD’s resources here – http://www.episcopalrelief.org/press-and-resources/resource-library
Asset Mapping is also an important resource should a disaster strike. A quick search on the map for congregations and ministries that are prepared to meet specific needs can save valuable time in the midst of a crisis. Our Household has been encouraging every congregation to participate in this Church-wide project. Has your congregation completed your part? You can read more about our diocese’s asset mapping here – http://www.edomi.org/share-your-churchs-resources-with-the-episcopal-asset-map/
Let’s work together to prepare EDOMI using our God-given gifts and abilities for whatever comes our way!
Let us pray –
O God, our times are in your hand. In the midst of uncertainty lead us by your never-failing grace as we seek to be agents of healing and hope. Walk with us through difficult times; watch over us in danger; and give to us a spirit of love and compassion for those who suffer and mourn. And finally remind us that you have promised never to leave us so that even in the valley of the shadow of death your love may be felt, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
— The Rev. Lyndon Harris, from the Episcopal Diocese of New York disaster preparedness plan
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee