July 27, 2012
Deborah Patterson knows health ministry. As the executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations, she works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. In this feature, she answers your most pressing or perplexing questions on health ministry. Are you hitting a roadblock with a program in your church? Are you wondering where to start with health ministry? Do you feel like you need a new idea on a specific topic? Ask Deborah!
QUESTION: This summer seems to be as hot or hotter than ever, and we are worried that some of our older neighbors or disabled folks might be suffering from the heat in their homes. We were thinking of opening a Cooling Center. Do you have any suggestions for how our health ministry team might do that?
ANSWER: Good for you for taking a team approach to this important effort through your health ministry team! And if you don’t have a health ministry team, do assemble a committee to explore this idea as soon as possible, because it would be impossible to do this alone. (Well, with God all things are possible, but none of us is God!)
Here are ten questions for you to consider with your committee:
1. Would you be open only for church members or for anyone from the community? Your question indicates that you would like to open this to the full community, but be sure to get buy-in from the leadership and the congregation before you proceed, because this is a bigger task than it appears. On average, serving 20 people or so for a week will take more than 70 volunteers, serving two meals a day.
2. Who will decide when the temperature is hot enough that it warrants the center to be opened? In Oregon, centers are opened when the temperature hits 90 degrees in the summer, but that certainly wouldn’t be hot enough for Missouri to open its cooling shelters.
3. What hours are you able to be open for guests? You certainly would need to offer different services for daytime and nighttime shelter.
4. What facilities do you have available to make your guests comfortable during the day? How many restrooms do you have available? Who will monitor them for cleanliness for your guests?
5. What facilities do you have available to make your guests comfortable overnight? Do you have showers available? A place to do laundry if folks are stuck there for a few days? Do you have cots? Bedding? Towels? You probably will want to have at least two overnight hosts from the church—a man and a woman—for each night.
6. What about food? Are you able to offer snacks or meals or can you arrange for a food cart or carts to sell meals in your parking lot? If meals or snacks are being offered through the congregation, who will be in charge of each meal? Do you have a caterer in your church who could arrange for meals at short notice?
7. What about security? How can you both be welcoming and keep the sanctuary a safe space for all?
8. How will you communicate that your congregation is available to serve the community in this way? You might want to be in conversation with your local health department, Red Cross, and area agencies on aging, for example, to let them know about your intention to help.
9. Would you be willing to extend your shelter for other purposes? For example, could your church basement be used as a shelter from severe storms? What about other emergencies? Here is where being in good communication with your public health officials would be a real asset.
10. How many church members does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but it needs to be the person who knows where the lightbulbs are—and the ladder. Be sure to recognize and honor your building steward for the extra effort this takes on that person too!