How to Handle a Property Accident at the Church

“There’s been an explosion at the church!” Seminary prepares a pastor for many things, but no class, lecture, or seminar prepared me to handle the damage done to our church building when a compressed natural gas tank torpedoed through it, leaving over a hundred thousand dollars worth of damage in its wake.

It was a Friday, my day off, and I was in my front yard mowing our grass and getting some other last-minute chores done before I planned to leave for vacation with my family the next day. I strategically left my phone in the house so I wouldn’t be distracted by calls and texts that might sidetrack me. It was my wife who notified me of the news. When she pulled into the driveway and hurried toward me, I knew something was wrong. “There’s been an explosion at the church! Everyone is looking for you.” I put on a clean shirt, hopped in the car, and headed to the church, not knowing what to expect.

I arrived to find an ambulance, two fire trucks, three police cars, and a crowd of people gathering around the parking lot where the missile had penetrated a brick wall and blasted out all the windows on the lower East side of our building. Apparently, someone was working on the natural gas tank of a van across the street at a daycare when something went terribly wrong. The tank shot down the road, smashed into the back of another van, which redirected it towards our church building. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the damage was done, and I had no idea what to do.

I have learned valuable lessons over the last several months since the incident occurred at our church. Here is a list of steps to follow when your building experiences a significant accident.

1. Have a Properties Team. Before I arrived at the church, our secretary had already notified our property team members, and most of them were already on the scene. They were able to board up the windows and holes and secure the building after the first responders had left.

2. Call 911. This seems obvious, but if you’re going to file an insurance claim, they will be asking you for a police report. In our case, the first responders were incredibly helpful in ensuring that the building was safe for us to walk through. They secured the gas tank and had it hauled out of our building.

3. Take lots of pictures! Your insurance company is going to want to see them. Before you attempt to clean or board anything up, document the damage done by taking pictures of anything and everything affected by the incident.

4. Contact your insurance company. This seems obvious too, but it’s essential that you contact them as soon as you receive a number for them to access the police report. They will be asking for that and your pictures. It is critical that you communicate well with your insurance company throughout the entire process. Do not pay anyone for anything without first receiving their approval to do so.

5. Communicate with the congregation. In our situation, we decided to keep the section of our building most affected by the blast off limits until a structural engineer could come and determine that it was safe. This meant relocating our adult Sunday school classes and finding alternative locations for them to meet. All these things needed to be reported to the church in a clear and timely matter.

6. Delegate responsibility. As a pastor, you have enough going on. Identify leaders in your church who can serve as projector managers. Trust them with the responsibility to meet with the insurance agents and contractors. Stay involved, but don’t burden yourself with extra phone calls and emails that someone you trust in your church can handle.

7. Be patient. This is a long process. Keep in mind that it’s just brick and mortar. Don’t allow the damage, the delays, and the difficulties of the situation to distract you or your church from your mission to make disciples. You don’t need a building to do that.

Mike Scrivani is the pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church, Bartlesville and can be reached at pastormike@highlandparkbaptist.net.

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