I have been out of the blog loop for a few weeks visiting my daughter’s family in Massachusetts and then settling back into my usual routine welcoming new students as Residence Director of a men’s dorm at the college. I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Resolution Review Committee members Rev. Anthony Estes, Luke Thompson, and Rev. Diana Walworth for taking over the important work of the blog in my absence. Each of them did a wonderful job of highlighting resolutions to keep us all engaged in the work of our Episcopal Church. Thank you, my friends!!
With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the Bahamas and likely beginning her track up the East Coast, it seems appropriate to look at a resolution addressing disaster relief and recovery that was presented at last year’s General Convention:
D007: Disaster Resilience Policy
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention commend the efforts of Episcopalians to support their families and neighbors in times of disaster, both individually and collectively, especially the leadership of Episcopal Relief & Development in coordinating immediate response and supporting long-term recovery; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention acknowledge and commend Episcopal Relief & Development’s work with dioceses in providing life-saving assistance such as water, food, housing assistance, medical supplies, gift cards, gas and other emergency supplies and pastoral care to the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (both United States and United Kingdom), Texas, Florida, and California in the aftermath of a devastating series of hurricanes, floods, fires, and mudslides in 2017; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention urge the U.S. federal government to fund and support not only immediate, but also long-term community and economic recovery from human-caused and natural disasters in the 50 States and U.S. Territories in equal treatment, recognizing that full recovery for a community and economy can require decades of investment at a scale only feasible through the collective action of all Americans through our federal government, and that material poverty exacerbates the effects of natural disasters and lengthens the time to recover from them; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention urge the United States government in concert with state, regional, and local governments to invest in large-scale preventative disaster and resilience planning for the effects of climate change on the scale of natural disasters in the future, and to coordinate these planning efforts with other nations as appropriate (for example, in the Caribbean region, with the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, and Caribbean governments, and with regional and global agencies); and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage all Episcopalians to prepare and plan how they will respond to disasters, how their parishes and dioceses can serve, and how to best partner with Episcopal Relief & Development to respond to local, regional, and national disasters as necessary, including using the Episcopal Asset Map and other tools to facilitate local partnerships between Episcopal Relief & Development and local dioceses and congregations; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage all diocese and congregations to create emergency preparedness and response plans that are inclusive of people with disabilities.
This resolution was born out of a concern for the victims of 2017’s intense hurricane season and the devastating wildfires that plagued the western part of our country. The author of this resolution, Mr Bryan Valez Garcia, wrote in his explanation for the resolution:
The year 2017 was devastating in terms of the number and scale of natural disasters in U.S. states and territories. It was an unusually destructive hurricane season thanks to the horrific forces of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that ravaged Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, some Eastern Caribbean islands, and Florida and Texas on the mainland USA. The wildfire season in the Western United States was also unusually severe, as evidenced by the many lost lives and personal injuries as well as massive damages to property—the largest death toll and loss of property in California wildfire history. The dioceses of Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Southeast Florida, Southwest Florida, Texas, and West Texas were among those directly hit by the hurricanes, and the Dioceses of
Northern California and Los Angeles were affected by deadly combinations of wildfire, high winds, and mudslides. Several dioceses, including Southeast Florida and Central Florida, have also been affected by the mass migration of Puerto Ricans from the island in the wake of the disaster and its ongoing aftermath, and are now working to minister with this diaspora community.
We also know from experiencing these events that while our Episcopal Church efforts are necessary and helpful, large-scale disaster and resiliency planning also is essential and requires the support of government agencies that can bring the resources for immediate relief and long-term recovery. The evident lack of adequate federal resource provision in the wake of two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017 has made the disaster much worse and the recovery much longer than it should or could have been. This resolution seeks to emphasize our church’s advocacy work with the U.S. government to plan for and respond to disasters with the resources that we need. There is also a need to expand the church’s advocacy efforts globally to other governmental entities, such as the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, and Caribbean governments, to encourage them to come together in time of catastrophic crisis and for long-term planning for the effects of climate change.
The explanation of this resolution goes on to tell a few of the stories of the dioceses impacted by these disasters and how Episcopal Relief and Development in partnership with local dioceses and congregations came to the aid of those affected. Here are just a few of the stories:
Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico:
In the month of September, Puerto Rico suffered the impact of Hurricane Irma that affected the islands of Vieques and Culebra and the northeastern part of the island as it passed close by, causing a lot of destruction. The Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico quickly organized to help this region and the neighboring islands that suffered the direct impact of Hurricane Irma.
A working group was established that began efforts to collect donations of food and medical items in conjunction with the Episcopal Health System and the Episcopal Hospital San Lucas, which they called “San Lucas for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean” to respond to the needs of the people affected by Hurricane Irma.
Unfortunately, many of these efforts could not be completed because on September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico suffered the direct impact of Hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane, one of the strongest in the history of the region. This hurricane affected all the social, energy, political and communications structures of the Island.
When the communication could be established a bit, the Bishop of Puerto Rico summoned an Emergency Task Force immediately to establish the protocol of how to respond to the suffering caused by this extreme catastrophe Immediately, this group went out to visit each of the parishioners to see how the clergy and communities were faring, because the lack of communication made it impossible to communicate with each one of them.
Thanks to the first efforts of the diocese to respond to Hurricane Irma, we could respond immediately with the resources we had available and the emergency funds that Episcopal Relief & Development had sent to Puerto Rico.
As soon as we could establish communication with church staff in New York, Episcopal Relief & Development sent a consultant to facilitate the response processes to the recovery. Episcopal Relief & Development has since done an extraordinary job in the Diocese of Puerto Rico and has provided many resources so that we can serve the entire population of Puerto Rico. Thanks to these resources, our diocese has been able to carry out focused and effective relief efforts through the provision of food and necessities, economic aid for housing repairs, pastoral and psychological assistance, and medical missions in the various municipalities of the Island.
The Diocese of Puerto Rico continues working with different groups, dioceses and organizations, including Episcopal Relief & Development, to help with Puerto Rico’s long-term relief and re-development needs. Lack of sufficient resources from the U.S. federal government continues to be a major obstacle for this process.
Deputy Bryan Vélez, Diocese of Puerto Rico
Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida:
When the eye of Hurricane Irma went through the Middle Keys on September 10, 2017 (Marathon and Big Pine Key), two of the churches of the Diocese of Southeast Florida were in the path of destruction. Our other three churches in the Keys received some damage as well. At the request of our bishop, Episcopal Charities took the lead organizing our churches to get supplies and workers to the Keys and to make application for disaster relief money from Episcopal Relief & Development. We have applied three times for grants and are grateful for the support received.
Feeding Programs were expanded and food pantries replenished at nine sites in South Dade County and the Keys. At most of our North Diocesan sites, power returned quickly and food was replenished with Episcopal Relief & Development grant funds. Because of this support, most of the feeding programs/food pantries were able to quickly reopen to support the needs of larger numbers of hungry people.
Boats at Boot Key Harbor, Marathon were removed from the water and returned to their owners. This is important as the cost charged by recovery agencies is prohibitive, so boats would have been destroyed by professional salvagers and more people left homeless. (Boats in the Keys are people’s homes.) Leadership at St. Columba Church was able to find professions who would work for much less.
Independence Cay Transitional Shelter, Shower, Laundry and Lunch Program in Marathon was seriously damaged and was repaired with Home Depot Gift Cards so that 20 men could return to shelter. A lunch, laundry and shower program served over 50 men and women per day reopened.
Most importantly, for the rebuilding of the Keys, we turned to buying and renting travel trailers in which families could live while rehabbing their homes. Unlike the FEMA trailers that usually house displaced persons for sometimes years, our trailers have had several turnovers in residents. As they repair their homes to a habitable point, they move out so others can move in. We know of a family with two infants who had been living in their car for several months who were able move into a recently vacated trailer.
FEMA was overwhelmed with disasters and was little help in the Keys. They had trash pickup into early November but then left the cities and county to manage the rest of the mounds of debris. FEMA also provided hotel vouchers for displaced persons but that ended in October with many hundreds of people still homeless. There were few to no FEMA trailers in the Keys.
Our churches mobilized. Workers, supplies and money came from as far away as Minnesota and Pennsylvania. They came from Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina and from the dioceses across Florida.
A workshop has been planned: After the Storm: Resilience in the Midst of Transitions and Unexpected Loss. Episcopal Charities and the diocese are also studying what we did right and what needs to change or be improved so that we will be ready in the face of any new disaster.
Deputy Bonnie Weaver, Southeast Florida
Episcopal Diocese of Northern California:
The October 2017 Northern California wildfires, also known as the Northern California firestorm, were a series of 250 wildfires that burned across several northern California counties during the month of October in conditions of extreme fire danger – dry vegetation, high heat, and high, dry, easterly winds.
Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa had 11 families who lost their homes, and many more evacuated, some more than once. We used the church as a shelter until we had to evacuate the building on the third night of the fires (the church building is fine). The fires roared through Santa Rosa like a blast furnace. More than 8,000 homes, businesses, and farm buildings were lost in our region, and many people died who were unable to escape. These fires burned an enormous territory — extending through Sonoma, Napa and Lake Counties and portions of Mendocino and Solano counties. It takes more than an hour to drive just the width of the fires. The community is in trauma and the rebuilding will take years. Incarnation raised thousands of dollars through a website button for donations; they decided to focus on assisting those who are the most vulnerable, including renters who have no insurance, low-income people who have lost jobs because of the fires, and undocumented people. The Rev. James Richardson, priest-in-charge, paid the $600 rent for a woman who cleans houses; she lost most of her income because the houses she cleans burned.
Healdsburg had four parishioners whose houses burned down and one renter who was displaced while repairs were made to her apartment. The renter also suffered an injury while displaced and couldn’t work to pay her rent, and so Rector Sally Hubbell paid one month’s rent for her. The ECW also made significant cash gifts to the parishioners who lost their homes. St. Paul’s shower ministry was busy beyond all historic records
St. Stephen’s, Sebastopol, made shelter for about 15 people during the fires in the sanctuary. Deacon Kate Sefton at St. Stephen’s is still working overtime on this and connecting with other, secular organizations.
In Mendocino County, a family who lost everything, including their two teenage children, was helped by a fund drive put on by Faith Church in Cameron Park. St. John’s, Roseville, put on a Winterdance Celtic concert that brought in a lot of money for fire victims.
The Rev. John Day, priest-in-charge of Holy Trinity, Ukiah, has made presentations to fire survivors in the Redwood Valley where nearly 400 homes and businesses were lost. Currently, he is the only person that Mendocino-Rebuilding Our Community recognizes as qualified to counsel fire survivors
and that is because he was trained as a Red Cross Disaster Chaplain and served as a Chaplain at Ground Zero in New York.
All the churches in the areas affected, especially Grace, St. Helena, which has a large community of farmworkers, gave out lots of cards for gas and food, plus got hotel rooms for some people and gave other specific financial assistance in terms of paying utility bills. Many of them continue to help those who have fallen through the cracks and will continue to aid rebuilding efforts as needed.
Lori Korleski Richardson, Interim Communications Director, Office of the Bishop
While we might not experience the brunt of a hurricane in Southeastern Michigan, as our climate changes and we face more extremes weather events, we must ask ourselves is we are prepared. And, even if we are spared these serious disasters, as part of Christ’s Body, we need to be ready to lend a hand and share our resources when others are affected. We can support Episcopal Relief and Development’s Hurricane Relief efforts here and you can learn more about their work on their website. If you are interested in how you might serve along with Episcopal Relief and Development, check out their Disaster Relief Program. And, did you know that our own diocese has a Disaster Preparedness and Response Coordinator? The Rev. Deacon Glenn Morrison is eager to meet with any congregation or church group to discuss an overview of safety and preparation for your location. You can reach him by calling (248) 892-2735 or email him at email@example.com The Diocese of Oklahoma has prepared a Disaster Preparedness plan for congregations and institutions that you might find valuable as you discuss this topic with your church family.
This is also a good time to write to our legislators expressing our concern that 158.4 million dollars is being diverted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to go instead to support immigration efforts at the border. You can find the names and addresses of your particular representatives here.
As hurricane season gets under way, let us keep all those experiencing natural disasters in our prayers and work together to make a difference in their relief.
Let us pray –
Most merciful and compassionate God,
Giver of Life and Love,
hear our prayers
and let our cries come unto you.
We weep with your people
We hear the cries of orphaned children and laments of bereaved parents
We feel the desperation of those searching for loved ones
We behold the silence of vanished villages.
We see the devastation.
We are overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.
Our hearts are hushed, our minds are numb.
Let not our hands be stopped, our voices dumb.
God of the universe,
Open our hearts to feel your compassion
Galvanize in us the act of continued giving
Bond us to our sisters and brothers in need
Comfort and heal the injured, the bereaved, the lost
Strengthen the aid workers and medical personnel
Bolster the resolve of governments and those with power to help
Open through this tragedy pathways to partnerships and peace
In Your Name of mercy and healing and compassion we pray. Amen
(from Xavier University)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council