Damage-wise, Sandy wreaked less havoc on our diocesan church properties than Irene did a year ago. Yet as we have seen and heard, Sandy produced gaping wounds on Staten and Long Islands -- and in South Jersey; that may take months, if not years, to heal.
Although Sandy didn’t produce much visible damage across our diocese, the storm has left its mark. Most of us were without power for a time. Many still haven’t had power restored. It was – and is, incredibly frustrating.
When power initially went out, most people – before they went looking for gas, hunted for power. The churches that retained power opened up charging stations; and people flocked in to re-charge cell phones and laptops and get re-connected. That helped. And it helped even more when food and hospitality were offered, as so many churches did. It was a wonderful outpouring of compassion and care – and provided unending signs of God’s grace.
But not having power at home has been a trial for most everyone. It certainly was for me. We made do with a portable generator and the kindness of neighbors; and developed a rhythm of living in the dark and cold. But I still felt power-less. So much of my well-being is dependent on my ability to flip a switch and make something happen. When the switch doesn’t produce the expected result, the disorientation takes a toll on the soul -- especially when the switch doesn’t work for days on end; which was the case for so many of us.
The first step in any and every twelve step group is admitting that one is powerless over alcohol (or drugs, or gambling, or eating – whatever the addiction or craving may be). Admitting powerless-ness is the first step to recovery. It can be a hard step to take. After Irene last August, the surprise snowstorm last Halloween – and now Sandy, many of us are struggling to admit that we are powerless over the enormous force that nature can generate. More sophisticated technology – on the ground, at the shore – or in cyberspace, is not going to be able to protect us from the onslaught of nature’s storms which are becoming more frequent and destructive.
We can prepare. And we will. We are going to expand our diocesan response team to include first responders, communicators, mental health professionals, insurance people – to be even more prepared for the next storm. Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) has been working with us to help shape this – and also is working with us to provide opportunities for congregations to be reimbursed for the extra costs of community ministry.
We can plan. And we will. I am hoping to gather leaders from congregations that offered so much community care in the wake of the storm – to see what we can learn from each other about situational community based ministry; and what God sort of missional work might be calling people to do next.
And we can pray. Prayer is not a last resort; and by no means is it a facile offering. The invitation to pray is an invitation to be connected – to an invisible and powerful divine force that has the capacity to guide, embrace and sustain us – in advance, in the midst and in the wake of the most turbulent storms. Prayer is not a matter of turning on a switch – but facing into the depth of our powerlessness; facing into it over and over again, and discovering the abundance of God’s blessing and care.