It happens thousands of times every summer. Noisy teenagers crowd onto buses and head off for exciting times at summer camps. Five days later, parents, anxious to see their kids, gather on the church parking lot waiting for the buses, loaded with sleepy teens and dirty clothes, to return.
Someone gets a text. “We’re five minutes away.” Parents get out of their cars. Little brothers and sisters run to the edge of the road, wanting to be the first to catch sight of the bus. Smiles and hugs are passed around as anticipation builds.
Imagine the feeling holding for more than five minutes. For more than ten. For more than fifteen.
And then the sound of sirens. Lots of sirens.
That’s exactly what one church experienced last summer when the brakes on their bus, loaded with thirty-seven young people returning from summer camp, failed less than one mile from the church. Witnesses described a scene where every person was injured.
The Youth Pastor, whose tweet had alerted the parents to their pending arrival, was killed. So was his pregnant wife. Their two-year-old was severely injured. A chaperone, a mother of five, also died.
Parents, hearing about the accident, drove to the scene to search for their children.
What do you do?
How do you minister?
Where do you start?
To complicate things, the Youth Pastor was the Senior Pastor’s son. That means that the one who we would normally look to for leadership is the one who is most likely suffering the most loss: his son, daughter-in-law, unborn grandchild, and, possibly, his two-year-old granddaughter.
Is there someone qualified and prepared to step-up and take the Senior Pastor’s place in this crisis? Regardless of the Pastor’s strength, the majority of the responsibilities of the crisis response should not be his to carry. He should be given time and space to be a grieving father.
Who is going to deal with the media horde that is about to descend upon the church?
Do church leaders at home even know who was on the bus? Do they have names and contact information so that they can follow-up with families and make sure that no person falls through the cracks? Often, churches send kids whose parents are not part of the church to camps. In an accident like this, who knows where those children are? How do you contact their families?
An eyewitness told the news media that he saw the bus on it’s side and people falling out everywhere. He said, “I could have gone my whole life without seeing that.”
But what did those on the bus see? Those teenage kids? Is anybody asking them? Is anybody helping them deal with those images that are seared into their memory?
These few questions only begin to scratch the surface of the many issues that surround horrific events like this one, but they do illustrate the absolute necessity of having a crisis ministry plan in place BEFORE an accident like this strikes.
This church will continue to struggle with the losses and fallout of this event for years to come. Insurance claims and lawsuits will likely be filed before many of the injured are even released from the hospital. That’s the cost of doing ministry in the 21st century.
We can always plan for the best, but we’ve got to be prepared for the worst.