Hurricane Matthew is forcing churches from Florida to the Carolinas to practice flexibility.
The folks at First Baptist Church in St. Simons Island, Ga., are an example of that. The congregation has been pushed to embrace the unknown since most of its members evacuated their homes and house of worship Tuesday and Wednesday, Senior Pastor Tony Lankford said today.
The church building is located a block from the Atlantic Ocean and many of its members’ homes aren’t much further away than that. It means no one knows what they’ll return to after Matthew does what Matthew is going to do.
“The big fear is flooding,” he said.
And Lankford doesn’t know where the congregation will be worshiping Sunday.
“There has been some talk about doing a community service here on the mainland,” he said.
A Jewish congregation in Brunswick, Ga., has offered to open its synagogue for Christian worship on Sunday, he said.
“That would be a neat thing if it happens.”
But the challenge for Lankford and other religious leaders is the unknown surrounding Hurricane Matthew. Even on Thursday morning and afternoon, the variables prevented Cooperative Baptist Fellowship state organizations in affected areas from making solid plans.
And there are a lot of ifs confronting disaster relief planners in this storm.
“We are preparing by watching the weather but that is about it,” Jay Kieve, coordinator of CBF South Carolina, said via email. “If there is widespread flooding and damage, we will help connect teams to partners and places and to work once it is safe for people to return to the coast.”
Larry Hovis, coordinator of CBF North Carolina, said that organization partners with North Carolina Baptist Men, a leading faith-based disaster relief ministries, for all of its response needs.
“We do try to provide encouragement and support to partner congregations affected by disasters, are praying for them now, and will reach out to them once we know the effects of the storm,” Hovis said in an email.
Frank Broome, coordinator of CBF Georgia, said this period before a storm involves a lot of watching and waiting.
“It’s just kind of hit and miss,” he said.
But CBF Georgia was able to meet an unexpected need early on in the storm by providing 40 sleeping bags to kids evacuating a children’s home in Brunswick, Broome said.
“That’s the first level — responding to things that just pop up.”
Otherwise, Broome said he will wait for Lankford and John Finley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., to return to their communities.
“Everything that can be done by churches is being done,” he said. “We are just at that waiting point.”
Even in the Sunshine State, where Matthew was ripping up the coast on Thursday, it was too early to know where, when and how CBF Florida would need to respond, Coordinator Ray Johnson said.
He added the reminder that the CBF is not a first responder in disaster work.
“We don’t do anything until the first responders have left an area. We have the capacity to come in and do the long-term clean up.”
Meanwhile, CBF Florida is awaiting word about how its partner congregations in eastern Cuba fared in the hurricane, Johnson said.
“We are a partnership of churches taking care of one another.”