A few years ago, I was attending worship when a member of the congregation had a medical emergency. We dialed 911 and found ourselves asking, “What do we do when the firefighters join the service?”
At any time, a congregant can take on a scary new form of prostration amid a church service or parish-sponsored event. Would you know how to respond? Who to reach out to? Do you even know the actual address of your church’s campus, should you have to call 9-1-1? These questions are at the root of why it is vital for congregations and other outreach ministries to address the basics of emergency preparedness, for we could be called to the frontlines of providing efficient, effective, and pastoral responses during an emergency on our church campus.
I’ve been surprised to discover many other clergy that have had similar experiences, medical emergencies are more common than I realized. We need to create effective, flexible systems that can respond to any emergency happening on a church campus, whether it be the weekly book club gathering or Evensong.
A Place to Begin
The first step of preparedness is to cultivate a calm presence. After that, a simple and effective model to use as a foundation to build upon your congregation’s preparedness is to take inspiration from how schools prepare both their classrooms and substitute teachers for times of emergencies. Imagine the church itself being the classroom and the clergy, staff members, and even ushers being the substitutes helping out. Questions to consider asking and answering by way of this model are:
- Is there a clear address and phone number visible or easily accessible via emergency preparedness folder?
- Where is the medical kit?
- Are there clear and accessible paths for emergency responders to gain access to a person in distress?
- Is it possible to move an injured person (if appropriate) somewhere private, to prevent embarrassment?
- Are ushers made aware that a part of their call to helping keep the ship sailing is to possibly be the front lines of a medical emergency?
- Do congregants know where to take cover or retreat during an emergency?
- Who should be contacted during an emergency?
- Who is going to follow up with the person(s) afterwards?
For emergencies that happen during a service, give yourself permission to modify the order of service when necessary. During the medical emergency I experienced, the clergy offered a quick prayer that addressed the reality of the situation and then skipped straight to the Great Thanksgiving. We wanted to prevent additional embarrassment to the person in distress and avoid a lingering of the peace with folks asking if they could help.
Ultimately, there is no perfect one size fits all emergency response. But with a calm presence and effective emergency plan all set, we can continue to rejoice together in a Holy Spirit that’s the giver of life, not giver ofkerplunks.
- After an emergency, take time to go back and assess the situation with fellow staff members and leaders who were present at the event. Make notes of any positives and also discrepancies needing to be addressed.
- Do an annual event of celebrating ushers, giving thanks to them while also incorporating subtle teaching moments on emergency preparedness.
- Consider doing community-wide CPR trainings, natural disaster trainings, and even flu shot clinics. This is a double bonus in becoming more prepared while connecting with neighbors. *You can even do a series in connection to the preparations of Advent or Lent.
- Do research on larger scale models of emergency preparedness, such as Ready, Red Cross, Guides for High-Quality EOP’s, and state-wide EOP plans for schools.
The Rev. KC Robertson is happy to chat with anyone about Jesus, accessibility, and our roles in reminding others that they are God’s beloved. She is living into her ministry as Associate and School Chaplain for St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and School in San Juan Capistrano, CA.