Emergency Response

Fr. Peter at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

I will be honest and admit that most of the day, in the life of a priest, is involved in the everyday tasks of just being.  I could go on about visits to hospitals and other such pastoral things, but most of the time I am just involved in life.  The same life by the way that most of you will be involved in.

However, shortly after my ordination, I was appointed as Chaplain to the Dudley Fire Department and life has been anything but ordinary.  You never know what the day will bring.  I wear a pager on my hip each and every day and I have been called to some pretty horrific scenes and to fires where people have lost everything.  I have had the honor to serve with some very dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day for the safety of others.

I have also had the honor of serving as a Front Line Responder with International Orthodox Christian Charities.  IOCC has put together a group of professionals that are available 24/7 to deploy anywhere in the United States after a disaster to render whatever aid we can.  Within three days of Hurricane Katrina I was on a plane on my way to Baton Ruge to meet up with other responders.  We did not know what we were going to do or even where we were going to stay.  We worked as part of an Ecumenical Team that was able to bring aid and comfort to people all over the state.  I have vivid memories of the Luis Armstrong airport, which had been turned into a makeshift shelter for thousands of people, and of entering the Orthodox Cathedral and finding an Icon of the Theotokos, under water, looking up at us as we came in the door.  These are memories that I will hold in my mind and in my heart forever.

On Thursday, I will be heading to Baltimore to join with the other Front Line Responders and the support staff from IOCC for a planning meeting.  Every now and again we gather together for a time of fellowship and prayer and also planning for the future.  We review past deployments with an eye of being able to do things better.  One thing you learn very fast in the emergency response business is you cannot be afraid to talk about and learn from your mistakes.

On Thursday our group will travel to Washington, DC at the invitation of the Obama Administration for a meeting with the folks from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  The WHOFBNP is interested in engaging to Orthodox Community in a conversation centered on future emergency response and how to help those who have suffered trauma after such disasters have taken place.  I believe this is the first time that the Orthodox Community has been engaged on this level by the Government and I am looking forward to the discussion.

I have often said that the government cannot, nor should they be expected, to do it all.  Faith based communities and other groups, need to be part of this type of work.  Faith based communities are at the center of life in a given community and can be used for many purposes during a disaster from feeding programs, to short term sheltering, storage, parking, etc.  Clergy are trained, or can be trained, in skills like crisis counseling and trauma response two areas I have become trained in and have used not only in disaster response but in everyday ministry.

I feel so blessed that God has allowed me to serve in this capacity to serve His people.  The Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains has as its motto “Serving Those Who Serve” and I have carried that into ministry at all levels.

Pray for us as we travel from all over the United States to our Nation’s Capital and pray that we have fruitful meetings.

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