How churches can prepare for natural disasters

When a hurricane is almost on top of you, there are still a few things that religious professionals and lay leaders can do to make a difference for their congregations:

• Copy off a list of members’ phone numbers so you can reach them later. Ideally that list will include cell phone numbers. And ideally you’ve asked people previously where they might evacuate to in case of an emergency. That makes it easier to find them.

• Designate a member or a team to call or otherwise try to find people when the immediate crisis has passed. This could mean dividing up the congregational membership list beforehand.

• Send your own emergency contact information to members.

• Designate someone who lives near the congregation’s building to come check on it so that you will know as soon as possible how much damage has occurred. If streets are impassable, others may not be able to get there. Make sure the designated person can get into the building.

• Download and/or backup critical congregational files and copy important documents. Place them in a safe and secure location away from your building.

• Lay in emergency supplies, including water, food, batteries, and flashlights not only at home, but at the congregation’s building. Let members know what support will be available there when the storm passes.

• If your building site is in danger of flooding, move items of value to higher floors, if possible.

• Invest in a couple of blue roofing tarps so you can cover any damaged roofs, if necessary, before repair crews can get there.

And when the storm has passed, carefully read the UU Congregational Emergency Preparedness Manual. It includes information on advance planning for emergencies and what to do in the aftermath of one.

New book explores governance and ministry

At a time when many congregations are rethinking their governance structures in an effort to help their boards function more effectively and to grow in an ever-changing world, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and senior consultant for the Alban Institute, has written a book that can help.

In Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Hotchkiss, who has worked with hundreds of churches and synagogues across the country, calls governance an “expressive art,” like preaching. He invites congregations to grow beyond a “board-centered structure,” instead creating a strong relationship with clergy and other lay leaders in the congregation so that the board is not making all of the day-to-day decisions for the congregation.

Many congregations continue to be organized the way they were in 1950, says Hotchkiss. Yet as a congregation grows and programs multiply, so do the disadvantages of the board-centered structure, he believes. “A board that tries to manage day-to-day operations . . . will spend a great deal of time on operational decision making. If there is no other place for a buck to stop it will stop at the board table. Until a board is willing to delegate real authority to someone else it remains the default chief operating officer.”

Hotchkiss says Governance and Ministry will be most useful to congregations that are at least pastoral-sized––with a median attendance of 50 to 150 children and adults. Among the questions the book strives to answer is: How do we need to restructure our governance to grow larger?

When liberal congregations fail to grow they often think that theology is the problem, says Hotchkiss. It’s not. “Well-organized congregations are succeeding (and poorly organized ones are failing) across the theological spectrum. The key trait such congregations have in common is their strong belief that they have something vitally important to offer other people.” That gives them the courage to let go of old ways of organizing. Improved organization can also inspire more people to volunteer.

He adds, “What healthy structures have in common is a clear understanding about the pathway to be followed when various decisions need to be made.”

As an incentive for change, Hotchkiss notes, “Congregations do some of their best work when instead of giving people what they want, they teach them to want something new.”

Governance and Ministry is $17 at the UUA Bookstore.  Hotchkiss is also the author of the 2002 book Ministry and Money: A Guide for Clergy and Their Friends.

Swine Flu Resources for Churches

The Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry has collected information on what congregations can do if precautions should become necessary for the swine influenza. Resources, available here, include a Congregational Preparedness Checklist, a Swine Flu Fact Sheet, and a Flu Care Booklet. The UUA’s website has additional resources, including information from the federal Centers for Disease Control.