This National Hurricane Center graphic plots the position and direction of Hurricane Sandy as of 11 a.m. Monday
This National Hurricane Center graphic plots the position and direction of Hurricane Sandy as of 11 a.m. Monday

NY, DC churches hunker down for Sandy

Pastors waiting in Hurricane Sandy's path are most concerned about church members and ministry clients who are least able to care for themselves.

By Jeff Brumley

Baptist churches and ministries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were hunkered down and anxious Oct. 29 to see what happens when Hurricane Sandy arrives.

“There’s been a heightened sense of anxiety because we are sitting here waiting,” said Amy Butler, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

“We know we are going to be hit really hard, and we’re doing everything we can to get ready,” she said told ABPnews via e-mail Monday morning, adding she was writing quickly “before the power goes out.”

Calvary’s website and Facebook page announced the church’s closure today, which is the case with congregations from the Carolinas up through New York and beyond. Behind those messages is a gut-level concern for personal safety, Butler said.

“There was a subdued feeling in worship yesterday, and we were missing a good number of folks who stayed home to get ready for the storm,” she said.

Much of the conversation among members was about plans and preparations, she said, and staff is working to contact members who were absent on Sunday.

Butler said that she isn’t too worried about the church itself, at least not from falling trees, because it’s surrounded by taller buildings. But “since this storm is unprecedented in its power, we just don’t know how it will affect our building.”

A New York City pastor said the bigger concern is for people, including those served daily by churches and ministries.

“As far as we know, all of those in our church community have found a place of shelter,” said Alan Sherouse, pastor of Metro Baptist Church in Manhattan, in an an e-mail Monday morning.

“We are concerned about those in our city who are most vulnerable," Sherouse said, "especially some of the participants in our community programs.”

Sherouse said the congregation’s famous roof-top farm -- the Hell's Kitchen Farm Project -- has been secured, and the church is closed at least until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, denominational organizations prepared to move in after Sandy moves through the region. The District of Columbia Baptist Convention postponed its 136th annual meeting, which was to begin Monday. The convention's response units are on alert to provide debris removal and chaplaincy. It’s also in communication with federal and local authorities.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has already issued an appeal for donations, while the North American Baptist Fellowship Disaster Response Network is making preparations to respond across the region.

"Everybody has worked real hard to get their areas prepared for this," said Harry Rowland, head of the NABF disaster network. "Now it's just a waiting game."

CBF disaster officials reported last week that they are already busy aiding Sandy’s victims in Cuba, where the storm killed at least 11 people on Thursday.

Even those not in Sandy’s direct path are taking the storm seriously, said LaCount Anderson, a Cooperative Baptist field coordinator who runs a number of Eastern North Carolina recovery and poverty ministries, including a men’s shelter in Roanoke Rapids.

“It’s the back side of the storm that will hit us with wind and rain,” Anderson said.

Two recent flash floods damaged the ministries, which has convinced Anderson and his team to be ready for the worst from Sandy.

 “We have sandbags and pumps ready in case the floods do come again,” he said.

Despite their fears, some of those closer to Sandy’s bulls-eye said faith is getting them through it.

In Washington, Butler said she touched on the coming storm in her sermon on Sunday.

“It was a sweet time of worship, where we all felt our vulnerability as we wait for this storm,” she said. “But at the same time we gave thanks for our church community and the sure knowledge that we are not alone, no matter what happens.”