by Karen Krueger
Heavy snowfall, limited travel and potential power outages are among expectations with severe winter weather. Is the day before a predicted blizzard the best time to think about congregation preparedness?* Well, no. But while weather alerts buzz it does get one to thinking!
There are some steps congregations can take to help their members and communities during and after a storm.
PERSONAL COMMON SENSE
You know the drill, but use this checklist from the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod** as a reminder:
- Have adequate supplies of food, water and medications on hand.
- Have flashlights and batteries or candles for emergency lighting and a battery operated radio.
- Have a full tank of gas in your car.
- Charge cell phones in advance of the storm, and have a charge cable to charge phones in your car during an extended outage.
- If you have heat, offer the warmth of your home as a place to stay for family and friends who don’t.
- Collect utility contact information, and report any power outages, downed trees or other damage to your municipality and utility company; do not assume others will report what you observe.
- Create a plan for rapidly communicating accurate information to members in case of cancellation or relocation of major worship or other event. Website notices, email, texts, phone trees and/or media outlets are possibilities.
- Policy for potential interruption of regular office operation should also be known by members.
- Pastors should carry paper copies of church directories with them, anticipating that electronic materials may not be accessible.
- Congregation leaders should note where important congregation records, including insurance policies, are kept. A spot protected from potential water or fire damage is necessary, such as a simple safe.
- Please contact the synod office or Bishop Graham if there is a significant storm-related occurrence in your congregation.
- In the ELCA Virginia Synod, congregation leaders are encouraged to identify special needs among members as well as skills among members that can be brought to bear in case of disaster.
“In a typical year, insurance companies handles at least three times as many winter weather claims as it does fire claims,” stated a Worship Facilities Management article.***
- Check your facility’s stash of deicers, shovels and other useful tools.
- Watch the roof and prevent snow accumulation. A single heavy snowfall can be an issue, but an insurance agent in the article said, “We also see collapses when rain falls on top of snow, which saturates the snow and increases its weight.”
- Especially since a building may go unused for days, the article recommends keeping the building’s internal temperature above 55 degree so pipes won’t freeze.
- Have a plan to clear snow from sidewalks around your property in addition to parking lots/drives.
After experiencing winter storm damage, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod shared the following.**
- Congregations can play a role in helping communities cope by providing locations for warming stations or shelters if needed. Reach out to your municipality in advance of a storm if your congregation can offer space to shelter or feed people to help the community make emergency preparations. (It may be difficult to make contact once a storm is underway.)
- Food pantries often have low supplies during and immediately after a storm, so if you can stock or deliver food before or immediately after a storm it will be appreciated.
- Check on neighbors and elderly/vulnerable members.
And don’t forget to press a glob of that white stuff between your hands and chuck it at a friendly target, or at least pause and take in the sparkling, messy wonder.
PRAYER (adapted from SE PA Synod*)
We lift before you people in the path of the storm,
especially those who are vulnerable to the cold, snow and ice;
those who must work for others’ safety during the storm,
those who may face loss of power and heat,
those experiencing homelessness who live on the streets.
Bring comfort to all bracing for the storm, and
give us strength to reach out as your hands to serve those around us affected by the weather.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
* This was posted January 21, 2016 while snow predictions-frenzy in the metro D.C. area was rising.
** ”Winter Storm Preparations for Churches,” by Bob Fisher, SE PA Synod MinistryLink (2/12/14)
*** ”Prepare Your Church for Winter’s Chill,” Worship Facilities Management Magazine (12/15/15)