They come from Colorado, Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Minnesota, California and more. They are pastors, presbytery executives, elders or simply Presbyterians with a passion to help those in need. The newest members of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team were commissioned this past week as part of the PDA NRT’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
The commissioning officially marks these “newbies,” as they are lovingly referred to, as full-fledged team members willing to be deployed at a moment’s notice to assist churches and communities facing natural or human caused disasters. But becoming a part of NRT takes more than a willingness to serve. Candidates must go through a series of trainings, discussions and discernment to determine if they have what it takes to deal with people facing their worst.
The Rev. Paul Reiter of St. Louis led the Discernment Team that brought the final recommendation to the full NRT. He says they’ve refined the discernment process over the years to give people the necessary time to absorb what they’ve heard and decide if this is something to which they are willing to commit.
“We introduce the work in three major areas; hosting, long-term recovery and emotional spiritual care,” said Reiter. “We’ve asked them to do some inward reflection to help them learn more about themselves and we package that into a four-day training.”
The initial training took place during a January meeting in Jacksonville, Florida and concluded with final training in St. Louis. Reiter says they were very pleased with this year’s group.
“Out of the entire group, we only had one person that we felt shouldn’t serve at this time simply because of everything going on in their personal life,” he said. “But we want all of them to do some self-exploration to determine who they are and what gifts they can bring to PDA.”
The Rev. Richard Underdahl-Pierce of Minneapolis, Minnesota is among the newest members of the team. He said the January discernment weekend clarified his call.
“After a year or two of retirement, I was looking for opportunities to volunteer, a new sense of calling,” he said. “This sort of flipped a switch inside of me when I saw a need for volunteers on the church web site. I felt this was where I could fit in.”
For Rush Watson of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it was about giving back. Watson’s church was heavily damaged by a tornado in 2011 and he was involved in the clean up and restoration work.
“All along I’ve been wanting to get involved with relief work,” Watson said. “I’ve got experience with the National Guard and was constantly called up for multiple deployments in a disaster. Being retired, I felt this was something I could do.”
Vince Patton, racial ethnic leadership development manager with Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is also among the newest members of the team. A long-time employee of the PC(USA), Patton says he became aware of the church’s commitment to disaster relief during Hurricane Andrew.
“Over the years, I’ve been very impressed with PDA’s ability to get people from across the theological spectrum to come together and make a difference in the world,” he said. “PDA is able to respond to either human caused or natural disasters in a unique way that other disaster relief organizations are unable to do.”
NRT participants can serve as either full-fledge members who are on call at any time, or serve as volunteers, who can be deployed on a limited basis due to other responsibilities at home.
During its Friday session, new members were called before the entire team for recognition and prayer of commission.
The NRT annual meeting concludes Monday evening.