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Support Your Supply Preacher: Emergencies


A couple of weeks ago I took a First Aid recertification class. I’ve been a first aider for almost thirty years, so this is probably close to the fifteenth time I’ve taken the course. It doesn’t matter how many times I take it I always learn something. This time I learned how to turn a blanket into a stretcher. Very handy, as a blanket will more likely be on hand in any emergency I’m in than a stretcher.

It happened that the instructor was the same one I had two years ago when I last recertified. She asked us about our home fire escape plans. None of us had one. She was a little disappointed because she had asked us two years ago to each make one and we hadn’t. So I quickly made a group chat on my phone with my husband and kids and texted them all saying, “If the house catches on fire our meeting place is the end of the driveway.”  There. Done. In two years I’ll be able to put up my hand and say I’ve got one.

This got me thinking about pulpit supply. Summer is a busy time for supply preachers. Summer is also a time of hot, stuffy sanctuaries.  It’s a time of bees and wasps visiting the church and a time of church picnics.  It’s a time when a lot of things could turn into emergencies.

A few summers ago while I was preaching I noticed an older woman nodding off. This does happen on occasion and I carried on preaching. But my eyes kept going back to that woman. Something seemed “off” about the way her head was lolling. I stopped preaching and was searching for what exactly to say.  Luckily another woman in the crowd followed my eyes and she saw the woman was twitching. The second woman was a nurse. She sprang into action as she realized the first woman was having a seizure.

The nurse said we needed an ambulance and I asked someone to call for one. It took a little more than ten minutes for it to arrive. In the meantime the woman had come to and was quite embarrassed about the whole thing. She explained she had recently changed medications and she wondered if that was the problem. She was still clearly not well and needed medical care, but it appeared as though she would recover.

People started getting restless and wanted to leave. I asked everyone to stay in their seats until the ambulance could transport the sick woman from the church. There was some grumbling about this. I didn’t want the paramedics to have to wade through a milling and noisy crowd if they didn’t have to.

The ambulance arrived and she was taken to the hospital. I heard later that she made a good recovery, news for which I was very grateful.

I felt so vulnerable in that moment when I realized we had a true emergency in our hands. It made me think of all the things I didn’t know as a supply preacher. I didn’t know the address. I didn’t know where a phone was. I didn’t know where a first aid kit was. I didn’t know the best entrance for the paramedics. I didn’t know what to do with the rest of the congregation while we waited.

What was even more scary as I waited for the ambulance was that I probably didn’t know the answers to those questions for the church where I was a member either. Where are the fire extinguishers? First aid kits? What are the emergency procedures?

As a supply preacher it would be nice to have a little emergency cheat sheet inside the pulpit in case of emergency with key information such as the address of the church and locations of fire exits, fire extinguishers and first aid kits. I suspect it would be a good thing for a regular preacher, too.

One church I attended had annual fire drills. I thought that was a good idea, but I’ve only experienced it in the one church. In my day job I try to start all our meetings with a little safety talk – just 30 seconds – highlighting the closest exit and location of a first aid kit. I was taught to do that in a workplace health and safety course. It might be worth thinking about adapting this practice to our worship services as well.

For bonus points, churches might include a section on emergency information in the bulletin for visitors and regular congregants.

Next week I’ll be musing on music.

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