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Being Prepared for a Disaster Is a Vital Responsibility

June 28, 2008
By The Rev. Theodore I. Bessey, Pastor of Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

The worship service was over, everyone had gone home and now the Rev. Thaddeus A. Praysalot could finally sit down. Pastor Smiley, as the aging clergyman was better known, groaned out loud as he settled back in his office chair. "What a disaster today was, nothing went right," groused the pastor to himself.

First the sexton, when he came to unlock the church building, broke his key off in the door and couldn't retrieve it so everyone had to go around back to the rear entrance. This did not make for happy parishioners and it caused everyone to run late. This was evident with the ushers, they were late and so they were unable to head off the visitor from sitting in Mrs. Crankely's pew, she had to sit elsewhere and there was a thundercloud hanging over that part of the sanctuary for the whole service.

Then the church secretary had printed the wrong hymn numbers in the worship bulletin. Even though Pastor Smiley made the appropriate announcements, the organist still played the wrong hymn before the sermon. The tune of "This Little Light of Mine" did not go well with "The Church's One Foundation."

The children's sermon was painful. Little Joey who has to let everyone know what is going on at the top of his voice just had to ask the pastor why he was wearing one blue sock and one black sock.

And then when Pastor Smiley stepped into the pulpit, he realized that his sermon notes were still on the kitchen table. Well, his old seminary professor always said, "If your study the sermon text all week, you are going to have something to say about it." The only thing was, he had never told them if it was going to be any good or not. Even though Pastor Smiley tried mightily, his sermon ended up like the "Peace of God, which passes all understanding." Just thinking about this made the pastor moan, he knew he was going to hear about this one for weeks to come.

And then there was the great disaster of the offering. When the offering was brought forward, the usher stumbled and the plates went flying. One plate ricocheted off the pulpit and bounce off old Mr. Pettifog. With the bandage on his forehead, you can hardly see the bruise. Meanwhile, the other offering plate rolled on its edge like a quarter before spinning down with a clatter in front of the altar. And to top it off, the usher let loose with a remark that was somewhat less than spiritual. At this point, it is best to draw the curtain of mercy across the whole scene of the offering.

Even communion did not go smoothly. The bottle of wine that nobody really liked had been sitting in the the back of the cupboard for months. It should have been thrown away but for some reason it had not been. Miss Sanctity, who was new to the altar guild and taking her turn for the first time this Sunday, thought that the older wine should be used first, and so the wine that nobody like and was well aged by now, was what Miss Sanctity put in the communion chalice. Needless to say there were many sour-faced saints at the communion rail today.

Mercifully the service came to an end and, being very stoic, Pastor Smiley endured the greetings of the parishioners, at the back door. When the last parishioner had left, Pastor Smiley went right to his office, locked himself inside, took the phone off the hook and sat down in his office chair.

While sitting there in the chair, quietly alternating between moans and sighs, Pastor Smiley leaned forward, with his elbows on the desk and began to massage his temples. His glance happened to fall on a flyer lying on his desk. The flyer was an announcement for a training session on disaster response for pastors and congregational leaders.

He said to himself, "Well, if anyone wanted to experience a disaster, they should have been with me in church today." But then his thoughts turned in a different direction. "Today was difficult but there was no lasting harm, and in a few weeks, everyone in church will be telling stories and laughing about it all. But what about the real disasters that come and bring pain and suffering and forever change people's lives?"

Before he knew it, his thoughts became filled with memories of his experience with disasters reaching back across the years.

Pastor Smiley remembered back to when he was a boy and The Night the Mountain Fell. This was the Montana Madison River Canyon earthquake of 1959. On Aug. 17 on the Madison River 27 miles north of West Yellowstone, Mont., the strongest earthquake yet recorded in the United States struck. The whole side of the mountain canyon fell on the campground below burying 28 people

While the numbers seem small compared to today's disasters, he recalled the great trauma the quake caused for the people it touched. His best friend from across the street had some family members who died in the campground. The communities in Idaho and Montana around the quake center had never experienced anything of the like and had great difficulty in coping with the loss of life.

The other disaster Pastor Smiley remembered was the Teton Dam Flood in June 1976. He was driving home from college when he heard the news over the radio. The dam that broke was in south eastern Idaho in Madison County. It was a 305 foot high earth fill dam across the Teton River. The reservoir was nearly full and when the dam broke, it sent massive flood water racing downstream destroying communities and wreaking great devastation.

The one thing that stayed in Pastor Smiley's mind was that nobody was prepared to deal with a disaster like that. There was no plan to put into effect. The whole region of south eastern Idaho came together to help the flood victims, everyone wanted to help and most did. But the problem was that it took time for the relief efforts to get organized. Nobody had ever imagined that there would be a flood like this and consequently the relief work was slow to materialize. Eventually through the efforts of many people, the relief efforts got under way and in the months ahead there were many stories of people helping their neighbors put their lives back together.

With these thoughts in mind, Pastor Smiley thought he better take a closer look at the flyer for the upcoming disaster response training, he noticed the logo; Get A Kit - Make A Plan - Be Informed.

As you may have guessed by now, in writing once again about the fictional Pastor Smiley, I inserted these two real life disaster accounts. Disasters are all too real these days. Consider the 69,000 people who died in the China Earthquake, the 78,000 that were killed and 56,000 missing from the Myanmar cyclone, and now the terrible flood disaster in Iowa and the Midwest.

Disasters have happened in the past, they are happening today and they will happen in future. We cannot always predict them but we can work to plan on how to respond to them.

Recently the Ministerial Association has been involved with planning for disaster response. The pastors have been working with the Randolph County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The planning committee is made up of a number of community volunteers and individuals from the county health department, Red Cross, police and fire departments and other agencies.

The county planning committee has been working to be prepared in the event of any disaster, whether it is natural or manmade. In these times, the possibility of a manmade disaster being inflicted on our country is all too real.

One of the things the Ministerial Association has been involved with is in establishing a Point of Distribution (POD). What this amounts to is a large warehouse where food, water and emergency supplies would be distributed to disaster victims.

Another thing the Ministerial Association is hoping to do is have a training workshop for clergy and congregational leaders. Such a workshop would serve to focus on individual families and congregations, getting them prepared to respond to a disaster. When a disaster strikes, often the first ones to be called are pastors and the first places where people go are the churches. So it is vital to prepare congregations to respond in concert with the county wide relief efforts. Hopefully this program will take place in the not too distant future.

I have one last thing to share. At a site where volunteers were working and helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, the following sign was posted - "What happened was an act of nature; what is happening is an act of God."

(The opinions of this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Ministerial Association or the author's church affiliation.)

 
 

 

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