The visible presence of the church is essential in any type of disaster, regardless of the extent of damage. The conference, districts, and local churches with their many volunteer groups are vital links to a huge network of caring responders from faith based organizations. Together they will provide to people in need three types of response:
The spiritual response addresses the issue of seeing how God's presence is available in the midst of suffering, despair and grief. The primary task is to be present in the midst of suffering and spiritual crisis, acting as an agent of reconciliation with spiritual support and encouragement. In large disasters the bishop may be there providing an "awesome presence." Local pastors should wear clerical collars to provide a visible example of the presence of the church. Teams of people trained in giving spiritual and emotional care (Care Teams), Stephens ministers and chaplains are available, and UMCOR is willing to train more people at our church level. Just being there allows the Holy Spirit to work through you.
The emotional response can address the problems of loneliness, shock, disbelief, delayed grief, and a multitude of related emotions that accompany those disasters that affect the lives of people. Pastors, Stephen ministers, and other lay leaders who have received UMCOR training can be present to help meet the needs of people in such trying times.
The physical response will be the most visible, needed to help provide safety, security and sanitation. Trained individuals and teams are needed, such as Emergency Response Teams, Spiritual & Emotional Care teams, volunteer management, plus teams to man shelters and mass feeding locations. All help meet physical needs and thus alleviates some of the spiritual and emotional anxiety. No matter how inadequate you may feel your skills and talents are in responding to people in need, never underestimate the power of presence. The physical response must address itself to facilities, finances and an unending list of unique needs that may or may not be immediately recognized, but your mere presence is immediately seen.