As Mormons prepare for Hurricane Sandy, they live their faith

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn holds a news conference on at the emergency operations center on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 in Waterbury, Vt. Vermont electric utilities are seeing the first scattered power outages as the state braces for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

Toby Talbot, Associated Press

NEW YORK CITY – Members of the Harlem Young Single Adult Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened their worship service Sunday with a hymn that captured what was on everyone's mind:

"Master, the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high! The sky is o'ershadowed with blackness. No shelter or help is nigh.

"Carest thou not that we perish? How canst thou lie asleep, When each moment so madly is threat'ning A grave in the angry deep?"

"We all got a chuckle out of that," ward member Matthew Kennedy said. "Somebody had a sense of humor."

That doesn't mean Latter-day Saints in New York City and elsewhere along East Coast are taking lightly the disastrous possibilities that may be imposed upon them with Hurricane Sandy scheduled to hit land late Monday. Preparation for and service during emergencies are a central part of the Mormon ethos.

"Preparedness is part of what we do as Latter-day Saints," said President Ahmad Corbitt, president of the LDS Church's Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake (a stake is an ecclesiastical unit that is similar to a diocese in other Christian faiths). "As a culture we are prepared because we've been prepared by our leaders. One of the great benefits of having membership in the restored church is we have prophets on the watchtower who see things afar off and sound the warnings. One of those warnings over the decades has been to be prepared."

Mormons are layering additional precautions on top of that typical groundwork with Sandy on its way. Local LDS leaders in the Eastern United States have been working with church members and missionaries and urging preparedness, caution and outreach to others who may need help during a natural calamity.

"We all went out and bought cases of bottled water," said Elizabeth Stuart, a student at Columbia University, who lives in the Washington Heights area with several LDS roommates. "We filled up buckets of water in case we need them, and we bought batteries and flashlights and candles and matches. We feel like we're ready."

The Red Cross is prepared to call on the underlying LDS infrastructure where needed.

"The (LDS) Church has created a strong culture of preparedness among its members that I believe can be a model for others throughout the country," wrote Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, in an summer op-ed for the Deseret News.

"The church counsels members to be prepared for a personal emergency or natural disaster by preparing emergency plans and having basic emergency supplies on hand," she continued. "And, because individual church members are prepared and resilient from disasters, the church can focus on helping other community members following an emergency."

That community outreach is already happening between Red Cross officials and LDS volunteers. Roger K. Lowe, acting chief public affairs officer of the Red Cross in Washington, D.C., said there are 42 LDS volunteers who are supporting Red Cross shelter operations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"The church is pre-identifying possible locations for staff shelters in New Jersey and New York once needs are identified after Sandy makes landfall," Lowe said. "We also need places for our volunteers who are deployed to stay, and this has the potential to be a long-lasting disaster response because of flooding."

Lowe added that "the Red Cross values is partnership with the LDS Church, and Hurricane Sandy is the latest example of our two organizations working together to help people in need in times of disaster."

As is usually the case in situations like this, most of the LDS preparation for Hurricane Sandy has been happening at the local level, as parents and congregational leaders focus on the needs of individuals, families and local congregations.

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