1 Sept Minister Moment

I have been on study leave for the past week, visiting New Jersey and spending time thinking long-term. I am also having some repairs done to my house. I will be back after Labor Day. Have a good weekend.

News from Texas of the flooding calls us into the spirit of sympathy. I’ve been away from television, but have heard that video of rescues and destruction are now the new normal. News of shelters at or above capacity remind us of the news following Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the Federal levee system, and (I hope) lessons learned will improve our response this time.  It is heartening to hear of pets being evacuated as well as people.

One thing I have learned is, “When you have seen one natural disaster, you’ve seen one natural disaster.” Each hurricane presents its own problems. Some things, like the need for water and blankets can be similar, but beyond that, one must assess each situation as it happens.

I was a ministerial intern in New Orleans a few years after the flooding, and also went in to volunteer a year after the city had been reoccupied. The post-Katrina recovery was characterized by two unique features:  many people owned their own, single family homes, and the flood lasted a month. The party atmosphere that can happen during a hurricane turned to despair. The scale of the work was unimaginable. The trauma was deep.

Rebuilding involved a huge effort. Tens of thousands of volunteers came to town and spent over a year rehabilitating homes. Our own First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans converted their second floor to house workers and also to coordinate recovery efforts. The work was not done by corporations, it was done by churches, by labor unions, by community groups from across North America. It was not centrally planned, it was planned by and for the homeowners.

And then… I was in my first ministry near Atlantic City when “Super Storm Sandy” passed directly overhead. Many people assumed that Sandy and Katrina were sisters, but they weren’t. Municipalities still had building inspectors, and repairs still needed permits. A few days after the storm the church got a call from someone wanting to live in our building and do carpentry. I had to say “we don’t need you.”

Sandy had its own areas of disaster. In Atlantic City retired couples would rent out their basements (illegally) to workers (often without documentation.) The storm ruined these apartments, and the workers could not collect aid. The couples could not ask for repair of something illegal, and depended on the rent money for food. People went hungry.

Harvey will present its own unique challenges. The question is: How can we, as a compassionate community, respond effectively? Firstly, aid agencies need money. The Red Cross does its fund raising when folks want to help. The UUA has a fund to help as well. I do not know if the Texas UU churches will have their own recovery fund, stay tuned.

Second: Going and Helping is something that should only happen in response to a genuine request. People who are trained are being mobilized, those who are not part of organizations are not effective. The ASPCA has trained workers (many in nearby Louisiana) who can deal with strays and pet rehabilitation. Other groups, including the UU Trauma Response Ministry (I am a member) will probably be called to help out with UU communities and maybe others.

Third: Harvey is not another anything. Keep an open mind, give some money directly to aid organizations with a known track record, and stay tuned. Who knows, in a few months UCN/CVUU may be invited to assemble a team to help rebuild the Houston area. For now, let us send prayers, money and awareness.

See you in a week or so,
I love you,
Rev Charlie