Lessons from a Crisis

By Beth Casebolt

Image of a tree covered in ice, with branches around it on the ground and over a small play area for children

Ice covered trees and fallen branches after the ice storm.

Last week I skimmed over an article that talked about how Americans love to be the heroes but never want to do the long term work to make lasting change. And I wondered about that. Was it true? And then the storm of this past weekend happened.

I live in southeast Ohio, which was one of the harder hit areas in the last major storm to come across the country. We're a rural county for the most part, with a lot of small towns and farms. Many years ago it was a steel mill and coal mine hub, now fracking is the industry that has taken over. My county was without power for over 36 hours, and many who are outside of the towns are still without power. Full water has just been back on for 24 hours. Cable and internet are still out in many areas. Schools are not yet back in session as there are trees down all over the secondary roads.

During the worst of the power outage and ice on the roads, you could see on our Facebook group that people were doing their best to help. Neighbors who had generators were inviting those who didn't to come over to warm up and charge their phones. Those with gas stoves heated water and cooked for neighbors who had electric stoves. There were requests to check on family members nearby which were promptly attended to, those with four wheel drive volunteered to transport folks to warming shelters. Local hotels with generators and water offered deeply discounted rates to locals who needed a place to stay. Once the storm passed and folks could get out, you could hear chainsaws all over town as people moved about, trying to clear fallen trees and branches from roads and driveways.

Most of these folks aren't necessarily wanting to be recognized as a hero, but they are responding to the urgency of the moment. There is an immediate problem and they can help create a solution even if it's a temporary one. That "let's get it done philosophy" I've run across so many times in this area and others.

But the article I looked at did have a good point about long term issues. Longer term problems that need more complicated solutions don't get the same support and effort from the community. If we can't see immediate results it's like we give up.

We do the same in our congregations. We're great with urgent issues. Need to replace the furnace or a computer or something like that? A fund drive usually results in what is needed. Need to rally folks to protest a bill or take a stand on a social justice issue? Volunteers are easy to find.

But the long term is a different issue. Need time to build a program that may take 2-3 years to start seeing results? People want those results in 6 months and start talking about pulling funding before the program has a chance to build. Or worse yet, when we want to slap a band-aid on a problem that really needs a long term solution like patching a roof that has been patched so many times it's no longer original roof.

Sometimes it can feel like congregational leaders just run from crisis to crisis. But it is important that congregational leaders take the long view and that they clearly communicate what's needed to their members. No, patching the roof this time isn't an option, we need to fund a new roof. Yes, we're going to let this new program have a full three years of funding and see what happens before we make any funding decisions.

At the beginning of the pandemic we all went into crisis mode. We just dealt with what needed handled right now and then moved to the next crisis. But now we need to start looking at the long view and learn from our experiences. We need to take what we learned about working together from crisis mode into our regular daily lives. How will our congregation handle hybrid services going forward? Do we want to partner with other congregations in projects we both support instead of trying to go it alone? How can we get our staff and lay leaders to a more sustainable level of work? How can we get out of crisis mode?

Your CER staff is here to help, so please reach out to your primary contact if you have questions, or reach out to your neighboring congregations to talk about how you can partner on different projects going forward. We are Better Together.

And as for my family? We're warm and safe, with power and water, cable and internet and doing fine. And helping our neighbors who are still without.

About the Author

Beth Casebolt

Beth Casebolt is the Operations Manager and Communications Consultant for the Central East Region. Prior to regionalization she served as the District Administrator for the Ohio-Meadville District, a position she held since November 2007. She is very interested in social media and website design.

For more information contact .