My father-in-law Dale Cotter once prayed a prayer before a family meal: “Dear God, make us useful people.” First United Methodist Church was recently asked to consider how we can be useful to the wider Sauk County community in the face of future extreme weather events. David Kell and I traveled to and represented our church at a meeting held in Plain, Wisconsin February 4th called BRACE (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects).
Wisconsin is one of several states where the BRACE program is being implemented through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services conducted the meeting and staff of the Sauk County Health Department served as facilitators. Representatives from local government, hospitals, schools, law enforcement, elected officials and staff of non-profits attended. The session began with an overview of climate effects we have been experiencing in Wisconsin over the past forty years. In brief, Wisconsin has been getting warmer and wetter, with more rainfall coming in extreme rainfall events. In the future, more precipitation in the winter is likely to come in the form of freezing rain than snow. There will be a longer growing season. We will see more frequent extreme weather events including crop failure. The purpose of this meeting was to prepare for the ways all this will affect public health. The participants together identified four climate-related health impacts of highest concern: mental health, waterborne diseases, injury, and chronic diseases (how those with chronic illness might be impacted by energy outages during a flood for instance).
As I listened during this meeting, and reflected on it later, I’ve come to see that we are in a good position to be ‘of use’ to others in light of these coming changes. Our church’s proximity to county and city offices, as well as law enforcement and emergency facilities, makes us capable of becoming a central clearing house. One of our strengths as a denomination is being able mobilize resources (human and material) in response to disasters. The United Methodist Committee on Relief and the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission programs have significant track records in doing just that. The United Methodist Committee on Relief offers a 1 ½ day training to prepare citizens to provide emotional and spiritual care in the face of a natural disaster. Once trained, participants would be on a list to be deployed in the event of an emergency in our local area. The training is open to any interested person (including non-United Methodists). Who knows? Perhaps through being prepared in this way, you may become the answer the someone else’s prayer.