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Advice for churches in the path of Hurricane Florence — from those who’ve been there

Ministers offer tips as monster storm barrels toward the Southeastern coast.

‘We need God’s help.”

As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the southeastern U.S. coast, that sign was spotted not far from where a Bible lay abandoned on a Myrtle Beach, S.C., street.

I read about the sign in The Post and Courier, the newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

A year ago, I traveled to the South Carolina beach town of Surfside Beach to report on the Grand Strand Church of Christ offering love and hope to addicts caught up in the nation’s opioids epidemic.

Now, the wonderful people I met on that trip face another threat: a monster storm.

Related: East Coast Christians prepare for Hurricane Florence

In all, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, and the homes of about 10 million are under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions, The Associated Press reported.

“Many of our members have evacuated, but some are still in town.”

“Many of our members have evacuated, but some are still in town,” said Corrie Lawson, wife of Grand Strand youth minister Blake Lawson. “Please keep them covered in prayer!”


For the churches in the storm’s path, I asked a few ministers who’ve been there before to offer advice:

Kirk and Jenny Garrison

Kirk and Jenny Garrison

• Kirk Garrison is minister for the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ in New Orleans, which was at the center of disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Garrison’s tips:

1. “Get the church computers to a safe place.”

2. “Have a contact list of all members (cell phones) and where they are going when they evacuate as well as a phone number for there if possible. Cell service can drop when towers go off-line and everyone is trying to call somebody. Texts usually get through.”

Related: As Katrina roared toward New Orleans, Charles and Angela Marsalis sought refuge at their church

3. “After the storm, call every member to assess needs and how they are doing. Take notes; people will ask.”

4. “If someone does stick around, have them visit the homes of those who evacuated and then call them to tell them how their house is doing. This can alleviate a lot of worry.”

5. “Don’t underestimate the impact of the trauma on those “being strong” for their families. It lasts for years.”

6. “Change the Wednesday service to prayer time, updates on members and planning next steps.”

7. “Be patient with well-meaning people/congregations who send you their broken stuff.”

8. “Gift cards are better than used clothes, etc.”

9. “Have a point person who can walk people through the remediation process and government programs.”

Doug and Sheryl Peters

Doug and Sheryl Peters

• Doug Peters is senior minister for the Grace Crossing Church of Christ in Conroe, Texas, which was active in the disaster relief effort after Hurricane Harvey last year.

Peters’ tips:

1. “It is important for churches in the path of a disastrous storm to realize that they don’t have to do everything themselves. They can partner with others — other churches, other people helping groups and even the local, county, state or federal governments. Realizing that different groups bring a variety of gifts to the table is important. It is a time to set aside differences and partner with those willing to serve their neighbors.”

2. “Start praying early. Ask God to reveal how you and your congregation can best be used. How has God strategically positioned you to best serve? Some have facilities to house storm victims in a shelter setting. Others can receive items and set up a donation/distribution center. Others can mobilize members to house incoming volunteers/workers from outside the region in the wake of a storm.”

Related: 18 vans, 150 volunteers, 465 miles, one goal: to help Harvey victims

3. “Slow down long enough to consider spiritual and emotional needs as well as the physical needs of those devastated by a storm. As you hand them food or clothing, also look them in the eye and ask how you can be prayerful for them. And then stop in that moment to put a hand on their shoulder and pray. Let them know you have support groups and ministries that may be helpful in he days to come.”

4. “Let them know that you will still be there to serve and care after the initial publicity of the storm passes. The news cycle will move on to something else, but they will still have needs. And their needs will evolve over time.”

David and Barbara Duncanb

David and Barbara Duncan

• David Duncan is minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, which became a disaster relief center after Hurricane Harvey last year.

Duncan’s thoughts:

“The material damage is the obvious loss in any type of storm, but that is only the beginning of the crisis.”

“The material damage is the obvious loss in any type of storm, but that is only the beginning of the crisis. The emotional and spiritual losses are great, as well. Churches need to be prepared for members and people in the community to suffer with spiritual questions and emotional struggles such as PTSD for years to come. The storm is a tragedy, but churches should be proactive in sharing faith through deeds, words and hugs with people who have previously seemed unwilling to share personal needs.”

In my time with the Chronicle, I’ve covered hurricanes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Texas.

Once again, my colleagues and I will be watching developments closely and updating readers on losses and needs among Churches of Christ.

If you have news to share, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Features Hurricane Florence Inside Story National Top Stories

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