Being ready for disaster in the heartland’s Tornado Alley involves having essentials, such as water and batteries, ready to transport at a moment’s notice. And because not all needs are material, congregations do well to have supplies of their own packed to ensure familiar rituals survive — even if their buildings do not.
That’s a message shared routinely these days in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, where volunteer Katresia “Kaye” Staggs promotes the concept of Church in a Box. The small kit includes everything a congregation needs to celebrate Eucharist on a makeshift altar if its building has become unsafe or reduced to rubble.
“If our church is blown away and we have no place to worship, we have the basics,” Staggs said. “We don’t need any of this to worship. But we have the basics of something that is stable for people.”
Devastating tornados of recent years have left enormous needs in their wakes. Local congregations have worked overtime to minister among the suffering in hard-hit places like Moore, Oklahoma, and Joplin, Missouri.
These disasters and others closer to home have made Arkansas congregations more aware, Staggs said, as they increasingly host community response training events and consider putting together a Church in a Box as “an emotional first-aid kit.”
Contents can fit in a box as small as 18 inches by 11 by 13. Inside are touchstones of the liturgy: a Bible, service pamphlets for Rite 1 and Rite 2, two white taper candles and lightweight candleholders, one Book of Common Prayer, one corporal, one purificator, one paten, one chalice, one bottle of red table wine, and one packet of Hosts for a priest to bless.
Once the box is packed, it’s ready to go — unless those responsible make the mistake of storing it at the church.
“It would be kind of against the whole idea if you kept it at the church and the church got blown away,” Staggs said.
A postulant to the diaconate in the Diocese of Arkansas, Staggs knows firsthand about the importance of post-disaster ministry. As a volunteer chaplain with the Arkansas Crisis Response Team, she trains residents how to manage emotions in a crisis and provides what she calls “emotional first aid” to survivors.
Elements of worship can help disaster victims feel grounded, she says, when everything else in their lives is chaotic.
“If you’re going through a disaster, anything that can calm you down and bring some normality to your life is a good thing,” Staggs said. Church in a Box, she said, helps disrupted lives to “stabilize.”
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Image of Church in a Box courtesy of Katresia Staggs