… and now “Sandy”

When I packed my car and started driving north last year, I honestly thought I was leaving hurricanes behind.  Living 13 years on the Texas Gulf Coast … I had the names etched into my psyche … Carla, Alicia, Allison, Katrina, Rita, Ike … like members of the family … and now Sandy.

All of us will tell “Sandy” stories for years to come … some about the power being off, others about trees falling, or roofs blowing off, others about evacuating or about being flooded and rescued.  We will tell stories of the devastation, the boardwalks gone and appearing in church yards, the homes and beach, itself, reclaimed by the ocean, finding 3 feet of beach sand in living rooms, boats on railroad tracks or refrigerators in the middle of the street.   Even more importantly, we will tell the stories of people … of how neighbors worked together, about how “angels” appeared with just the right help at the right time, about how the church mobilized to feed or muck out or house volunteers.  We’ll tell stories of survival and hope … even in the midst of devastation we have seen the hand of God … not in the flood waters, but in the “stone soup” suppers and impromptu potlucks, in the serving and delivery of food pantry macaroni and cheese to families in the midst of mucking out their homes, in the offers of gift cards to Target for families evacuated with nothing but the clothes on their backs … in the stream of phone calls and emails from colleagues and churches all over the country offering to come and help, or to partner with a congregation.

Friends, this is a catastrophic disaster.  For many of us, our lives and our congregations will never be the same as it was pre-Sandy. 

At first count, I counted 25 of our 47 churches were in communities that were  described as “devastated” by Sandy …  Except for Belmar, most of our church buildings came through with only mild to moderate damage, if any.  Belmar had significant flooding.  Our families, and our communities, on the other hand, have been forever changed.  Talk to just about any congregation on the shore and they will point to members who have lost everything.  For some, like Tuckerton, where 25 families were severely affected, the impact will undoubtedly take a huge human and financial toll on the life of the congregation.

We will be recovering from Sandy for YEARS … it’s the new normal.  We have to prepare ourselves for the long haul.  In the disaster recovery world, Presbyterians are noted for being good at the long haul.  When FEMA and the Red Cross and the Baptist chainsaw teams go home, the Presbyterians are still here, working, rebuilding, supporting, and giving.

So, let’s talk, now, frankly about what to expect.  By now some of you will feel like you have mentally, emotionally and spiritually “hit the wall”.  I felt it about a week ago … for me, I had real trouble retrieving words, I lost my patience quickly, I found myself speaking without appropriate forethought.  I had trouble sleeping, yet I felt like I wanted to stay in bed forever.  I started crying more often and felt emotionally raw.  I needed a break …

I cannot say what your symptoms of “hitting the wall” will look like, but you WILL need a break …  and if you don’t take it intentionally, your body and your mind will find a way to get it for you.  Don’t make yourself sick … take time off, pace yourself, have fun, laugh, spend time with your family, call friends, exercise, eat right.  If you need help finding ways to do that, call me, I’ll let you borrow my motorcycle.

This may be the time to take advantage of the many resources our Board of Pension provides for mental and physical health.  If you don’t have a group of colleagues and good friends to share your stories with, then it’s time to find some … again … let us know, we can help.

Your congregation may be stressed with financial concerns due to Sandy.  It’s not unusual, especially if you had to miss a Sunday or two, or if a significant number of members are struggling with insurance deductibles and find a place to live, to find cash flow and income to be tragically low.  Your treasurers and finance committees should not keep financial concerns to themselves.  Nor should sessions and pastors keep these concerns to themselves … Let us help.

The Board of Pensions, PILP, PDA, and other agencies have resources, which are available to help in times like this.

Let me say this clearly … and I trust that you will hear these words in the faithfulness in which I share them.  No congregation should ever put its witness to the community at risk, especially at a time like this, in order to pay our presbytery per capita or mission giving pledge.   In fact, I believe the reason a presbytery cannot force a congregation to pay per capita, is precisely for that reason … ministry of the congregation to its local community takes precedence over obligations to the larger church.  However, we also need to remember that our per capita and mission giving to the larger church is precisely WHY we have resources to help at times like these.  So, please … be faithful in your giving if you are not affected, and be faithful in your ministry, if you are.  And let us know about any financial difficulties you may be experiencing before holding back on per capita, or falling behind on pension dues, or finding yourselves not able to pay the pastor this month.  We can help.

Regarding what we’re doing and where we’re heading: we have formed a “Sandy Recovery Team”, headed by Walt Vincent of Hightstown.  He will talk to you shortly about the efforts of the team and what to expect as we move forward.

Along with the tides of destruction and the winds of change, comes the opportunity to grow in faith, to heal past wounds, to work together in ways we never dreamed possible.  This is the time to see the church in action … brothers and sisters in Christ all across the country praying for us, visiting us, providing for us … we will be stronger, and we will be even more faithful as we come through these hard times.

This post is a copy of the Regional Presbyter Report I gave to Monmouth Presbytery on November 27, 2012

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