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Baptists in blackout join neighborhood camaraderie

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The blackout that hit eight states and southeastern Canada was certainly a crisis — and a neighborly event.

In Detroit, Baptists used the blackout as an opportunity to bond with their neighbors, said Joe Ryckman, director of missions for the Greater Detroit Baptist Association.

During approximately 26 hours without power, Baptists joined the ranks of Detroit-area residents who resisted the temptation to become angry, instead demonstrating a remarkable spirit of cooperation, Ryckman noted.

“Out in the community, the next morning people were talking about how they got to know their neighbors more than they had before. They pulled together. They had shared things across the fence, meals and things, and just sat and talked with one another. So that was a good thing,” he said.

Jeff Christopherson, teaching pastor at a new Toronto-area Southern Baptist church, The Sanctuary, in the suburb of Oakville, said Aug. 17, “It was kind of a novelty. It was a chance to get to know your neighbors.”

For Baptists in the Cleveland area, the blackout forced them to break from the stresses of life and spend time with their families, said Bob Mackey, pastor of Parma Baptist Church and moderator of the Greater Cleveland Baptist Association.

Mackey’s own family spent Thursday night cooking macaroni and sausage over a camping stove and playing games, while one of the church’s deacons reported spending Thursday night around a campfire on his family’s patio, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and also playing games.

Families found the evening particularly enjoyable because there was hardly any crime that coincided with the blackout, Mackey said.

“I think the reason it made it a blessing is that the news wasn’t covered with looting and rioting and people dying,” he said. “Because we’re Christian people, we would have been very empathetic toward other people who were coping with those kinds of tragedies. … It allowed you to be at home and not, at least psychologically or emotionally, be consumed with the heartache or tragedy that had been occurring.”

In New York City, subways and traffic lights were running smoothly again Aug. 18, and the Metropolitan Baptist Association and Southern Baptist congregations in the city contacted by Baptist Press were doing well with no significant incidents to report.

New York’s Consolidated Edison asked customers to conserve power during Monday’s usual increase in demand, and the North American Electric Reliability Council announced late Aug. 17 that the power grid was operating reliably again, according to CNN.

Investigations of the blackout’s causes and weaknesses of the nation’s electricity grid — and tallies of the economic costs — now are taking the spotlight, as millions of residents in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and Canada’s Ontario province return to their daily routines.

The mayor of Detroit and other city officials publicly celebrated that the city experienced no significant rise in crime during the blackout. Many Detroit citizens, concerned about warnings about the safety of drinking water, took bottled water to senior citizens during the blackout.

“I think the thing that’s striking about this from what everybody is talking about is how everybody handled it so well,” Ryckman said.

All of the churches in the Greater Detroit Association held services Sunday morning, Ryckman reported. But some canceled services Sunday evening in response to a city request that Detroit residents cut back on power usage for several days.

Christopherson said he had not heard of any serious problems church members or others in his Toronto-area community experienced in connection with the blackout. Most power, he said, had been restored by Friday, although some areas remained without power until Saturday.

“The people who had it the toughest were the people who lived in Toronto high-rises,” he said. “If you lived on the 27th floor, you spent a long, hot night Thursday night.”

In the Ottawa area, Rick Lamothe, lead pastor for Sequoia Community Church, which meets in a high school building in suburban Nepean, Ontario, said the worst problem he observed was “a lot of spoiled food in the fridge.”

“There was a bit of a panic Friday morning, with people trying to load up on food, batteries, those kinds of things,” he said. “It showed that people really aren’t ready for emergencies.”

Power was off for about 14 hours at his home, he said.

As a result of the blackout, Lamothe said his church staff and membership likely would discuss forming a contingency plan to determine what they can do in case of a similar situation in the future.

“When we are able to buy some property and build our own building, we want to be the place where the lights are always on,” he said. “We want to be like a lighthouse to our community.”

Lamothe said the blackout’s timing also helped the situation.

“If it had happened on a Tuesday or Wednesday — in the middle of the workweek — instead of at the start of the weekend, it could have been a real disaster,” he said.

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves, meanwhile, reiterated his call to businesses to cut their hours of operation or adjust them so that they’re up and running when demand for electricity is lower than usual, generally between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Eves previously had called on the manufacturing and industrial sectors — especially the top 100 major users of energy — to slash their use of power by 50 percent to prevent further blackouts as the work week looms.

The premier also asked commercial and retail businesses to conserve energy by determining what their needs are and using 50 percent of the power they normally use.

Mackey, in the Cleveland area, recounted that most members of Parma Baptist Church lost power at approximately 4 p.m. on Thursday and regained it early Friday morning.

“Everybody’s lives just kind of slowed down for an evening,” he said.

One member of Mackey’s church actively helped to maintain order in the Cleveland suburb of Parma.

A policeman in the church was able to keep the city’s traffic lights working because of an unlikely encounter with a Sears manager. Looking for some way to fix Parma’s traffic lights, the officer went to Sears Thursday night. The store manager happened to be spending the night at the store and provided police with generators to power the traffic lights.

By Sunday morning traffic was functioning normally, and Parma Baptist gathered for worship.
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by David Roach, Harold Campbell & Erin Curry.

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