Care of Congregants and Neighbours - Pre Pandemic Preparedness

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

Preparing for a pandemic is perhaps the longest and most important stage of preparedness because it lays the groundwork and sets the tone for how the church will respond in the crucial times ahead. By taking time to assess and plan appropriately, church members will be better prepared to handle the issues that come their way because they have thought carefully about what needs to be done. A congregation that is ready, willing and able to assist during a pandemic will undoubtedly fare better than a congregation that has not prepared. Care Groups or other small groups, as well as health-care workers, in the congregation, are ideally suited to care for each other in an emergency, but also to extend beyond their group or circle within and outside the church body in an organized manner. This is discussed in the “Getting Started” section of this website.

At risk within the church

People at risk within the church include the chronically ill, those with developmental or sensory deficits, seniors who live alone, single parents and new immigrants. Planning should include an updated list of such individuals so that they are the first to be contacted as a pandemic unfolds. Involving people at risk in the planning stages is important as they can be helpful in letting the church know what their specific needs are and the best means of contacting them. Collaboration can promote dignity and independence because it involves individuals and families rather then deciding what are in their best interests.  Preparation of a telephone tree is one way of ensuring that vulnerable congregants will have regular contact with those who have the capacity to assist.

Caregivers within the church with children will likely need childcare services as the emergency continues. Provision of such an organized and pre-planned service will be invaluable in helping sustain caregivers over the lengthy emergency.

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

At risk neighbours

On any day, one only has to walk a short distance to see neighbours that are at risk in the community surrounding your church. Whether it is a senior with a walker, a homeless person with a cart, an unkempt individual wandering aimlessly and talking to his or herself, or a new immigrant that cannot communicate with you due to a language barrier; all may be at risk in the event of a pandemic.

Please review the questions for congregational discussion and focus posed in the “Getting Started” section of this website, particularly questions around who are your neighbours that you want to help – those in your church neighbourhood as well as each congregant’s residential neighbours. It is important, when introducing yourself to the neighbours on your street, to indicate your motivation and provide some background as to why you want to be of support, especially if this is an unfamiliar neighbour. Your connection to your congregation and its service motivation will not normally be clear to these neighbours, nor is it of great importance – you are a neighbour available to provide compassionate, practical help in the event of an emergency and you and your church are expecting to be a good source of information during such an event.  The 'neighbourhood needs assessment' form may be useful in helping your own neighbours in an emergency, provided they want to share such information. 

Before a pandemic starts, it is important to know who these neighbours are and to try and establish rapport. Otherwise, they may become neglected during the chaos of a pandemic, as you may not have knowledge of how or where to find them.  In order to demonstrate concern and establish rapport with the variety of neighbors in the surrounding community, church members can:

  • Learn about mental health concerns and how to be of assistance
  • Learn about health issues in other cultures
  • Learn key phrases of the predominant cultures in their community
  • Learn about predominant faith groups and what they believe
  • Advocate for homeless shelters
  • Learn about sensory and developmental challenges
  • Hold ESL classes for new immigrants in the community
  • Organize neighbourhood kids' activities/clubs

All of these points can make a church more responsive to the needs of the vulnerable people in their community. And the source of this responsiveness may well be noticed by neighbours.

Also see:

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

The healthy within the church

The more that individuals and families can stay healthy, the more assistance they can be to others during a pandemic. This means educating yourself and your family on pandemic preparedness and having appropriate supplies on hand in case of an emergency.

Understanding hygiene techniques to prevent spread of influenza is crucial. Who knows, you may very well inspire your fellow congregants to take personal hygiene more seriously. After all, hand washing is the single most effective deterrent against infection.

The better prepared you are for a pandemic, the more you can assist those in your church and surrounding community, thereby building greater resilience. As your church prepares for a pandemic, here are some examples of things your church can do:

  • Advocate for those who are vulnerable in your community by getting involved on boards and committees
  • Connect with other churches and organizations and decide how you might work together to assist church members, neighbours and surrounding the church
  • Support your leaders in getting the training they need regarding disaster trauma
  • Educate yourself about community resources and prepare a list of services in your neighborhood that can be accessed by those you will undoubtedly be caring for – include addresses, phone numbers, and type of services offered
  • Create a deacon’s or mutual aid fund that can be accessed by those who experience sudden financial loss during a pandemic; starting early allows for the fund to grow over time (see also Congregational Mutual Aid Responses During a Pandemic [PDF document]
  • Explore expanding kitchen capacity to feed not only members but neighbours as well

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

Caregivers within the church

Prior to a pandemic, or any other disaster for that matter, caregivers need to be involved in disaster training in order to prepare them for the responsibilities that will inevitably come their way. Caregivers need to know what interventions are appropriate for them to handle and what interventions they should pass on to other agencies. They also need  know how to be respectful of different cultures and faith traditions.

Education in areas such as critical incident stress management will assist caregivers within the church to deal with the death and grief that undoubtedly will mount in the event of a pandemic. Ensuring that caregivers are more knowledgeable about the toll this will take on themselves personally, can assist them in setting appropriate boundaries so as to avoid the long-term consequences of burnout.

Please refer to Church World Service webinars related to recovery from, preparation for and responses to disaster

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

The healthy outside the church

The song, "They will Know we are Christians by our Love", takes on new meaning in a disaster setting. Pamphlets on what your church is doing to respond to a pandemic can be distributed in the community. They could include invitations to a community forum inviting neighbours suggestions on what the church can do to assist the neighbourhood in the event of a pandemic or other disaster.  Our neighbours will watch for our responses to the community outside the church’s walls during times of disaster.  Our intention is that people will observe the church as an embodiment of love.

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside