Friday, September 02, 2005

Hugh Hewitt: A Swarm of Relief

Hugh Hewitt: "One example. The Presbyterian Church, USA has a long and pretty good record of responding to disasters. At the website for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance there is a letter to interested volunteers which is straight out of the old top-down model. It boils down to "tell us if you have a team of volunteers, and we'll match you to a need in the next few months."

In the days of restricted information flows, this approach made sense. It doesn't anymore.

Assume there are 10,000 Presbyterian Church, USA congregations around the country, and 100 in the devastated regions. Rather than a group of people in Louisville collecting --and controlling-- info flow, the PCUSA headquarters team ought to post a list of the churches in the area on the web, and ask the PCUSA's 9,900 other congregations
to select one of the 100 and establish contact. Sure, some of the affected churches would get more responses than they need, but very, very quickly, each of the distressed church's staff would have between ten and 100 PCUSA partner congregations around the country upon which they could call for needs and prayer. Right now. Not three months from now. By weekend's end.

Right now people urgently want to help --want to establish contact with victims and volunteers in the area. If facilitated right away, those connections will mature and deepen into hugely effective networks. Only headquarters will have to give up control to make it happen, though as MarkDRoberts' congregation's quick embrace of Canal Street Presbyterian Church in the heart of New Orleans demonstrates, motivated churches and innovative pastors and lay leaders are unlikely to wait for direction from HQ on how to proceed.

Though this will be very threatening to heirarchies, I hope that they will quickly see the extraordinary value to be gained by stepping out of the way and encouraging such self-organizing partnerships as a means of really getting the work begun now, and crucially, getting hope kindled quickly in these devastated communities.

It is fine and a little reassuring to know that Louisville is committed to working on the project.

It would be so much more encouraging to have the names of the churches, the e-mails from the pastors and staff, the concrete promise of financial and other forms of assistance flowing in, and the names of prayer partners. That's concrete. That is so much more real than knowledge that a committee is collecting names of volunteers.

Time is of the essence. In fact, if congregations matched with congregations right now, some families without a place to stay might find themselves a home for the next few months. All sorts of needs could be met once the connections get established.

The same dynamic will apply in a thousand different settings. Now if only the old heirarchies who enjoy their status and their control realize there is a much better way of doing things."

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