Natural Disaster Relief, Response
Natural Disaster Relief, Response

Summertime in the Pacific Western Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is often a time of heightened awareness and occurence of natural disasters that can affect our congregations and families—wildfire, flash floods and landslides/ mudslides are common and terrifying in the summer months, though we experience these and other natural disasters year ’round as well. We’re prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, avalanche, as well as crisis and trauma that can have human origins—car accidents, shootings, toxic spills, derailments, terror attacks, suicide. Serious illness of a church member, whether chronic or sudden, can also be traumatic events for a congregation.

While there are many needs for support and relief for congregations and people affected by such events, one of the most important first steps for your congregation is to establish and be ready with a crisis response communications system. This can serve the critical need for timely and accurate information about what has happened, what is needed and what is the current status. Having a known and trusted avenue for communication can provide relief in itself, allowing families in distress to stay focused on their immediate and personal needs without having to also respond to constant requests for details, surprise visitors and a deluge of well-intended but overwhelming offers of help.

Your crisis response communications system could be developed and managed by your pastoral care team, Committee on Ministry, or a small ad hoc group—serving as the official “command center” to care for both the affected people and all the anxious congregants who want to respond in some way. It’s helpful to have an identified, single point person within the structure to manage all communications about things like:

  • Sending out regular and timely updates on how the affected people are doing, so that others don’t take it upon themselves to post unsubstantiated or inappropriate info to Facebook or email—this is most respectful to the privacy and peace of the affected people.
  • Wrangling offers of help and resources, including collecting cards and other donations so the affected people don’t have to figure out what to do with all this stuff (regardless of how sweet)—including turning away donations that aren’t needed or wanted.
  • Managing visitation schedules, including attendants who can be near but not hovering (e.g., hospital waiting room, chair on the porch, car outside a house) available to run errands, get take-out food, divert unexpected visitors, or be a companion if someone wants to talk, pray or not be alone.
  • Giving congregants something to do with their anxiety and wish to help – for example, projects that can be available at the right time – babysitting or taking kids on outings, preparing and freezing meals, finding specific plants to replace lost landscaping, etc.
  • Setting and publicizing dates for related gatherings—Q & A sessions, potlucks, prayer meetings, vigils, special services and rituals.
  • Being in touch with the UUA district / region to coordinate news and support to and from the wider UU community.

Your Congregational Life Staff in the UUA Pacific Western Region can help your congregation arrange for help from the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Trauma Response MinistryTeam, or access local or national UU relief funds in some cases.

Disasters can’t always be prevented or predicted, but Unitarian Universalists can be prepared to respond more sensitively and effectively with advance planning and care-filled attention. We are a generous and capable community! We can also increase our capacity for comforting and appropriate pastoral presence, if we commit to cultivating our spiritual depth, compassion and commitment as individuals and congregations. Let’s be prepared in our religious lives, too, that all may be sustained and ready to do what we can.

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