CHURCHES need to be turned into community hubs, equipped with
broadband and food services, so as to help communities through
local emergencies, a report on the Church's response on the
devastating flooding to the Somerset Levels has recommended.
The report, Fact, Feeling and Future, was commissioned
by the Bishop of Taunton, the Rt Revd Peter Maurice. He said: "We
are trying to keep this agenda alive: people here fear it will be
The report also backs residents' demands for renewed dredging of
the local rivers, especially the rivers Parrett and Tone. The
Environment Agency began dredging again this spring, and has so far
dredged half of the eight kilometres of river. It expects to finish
The floods in December 2013 and February this year devastated
homes and communities on the Levels. Churches played an active part
in the relief effort to support communities cut off by rising
water, in some cases for weeks.
Bishop Maurice hopes that, by implementing the report's
recommendations, the diocese and churches can respond even more
quickly and effectively to floods and their devastating impact. He
has vowed to keep lobbying the Government on the needs of
communities in the Levels, and to strengthen the links between the
bishops in the House of Lords and government ministers.
Among the recommendations is the creation of a major-emergency
fund from which the diocese can make immediate payments to those in
need; better use of social media so as to communicate during local
and national crises; and turning churches into community hubs,
complete with broadband.
The Bishop said: "We know with some there will be practical
difficulties. This is what happened in Muchelney. It had a
wonderful prayer board that was visible to everyone who came into
the church, so that everyone knew that what people in the church
were doing was being done by them out of their deep faith."
Two tablet computers were put inside the church, and a member of
the congregation donated broadband to help people stranded in
Muchelney to keep in touch. Food deliveries were piled up in the
church, and hot drinks were provided for the emergency services
that ferried people into the village by boat.
In the community of Moorland, which was cut off for weeks, no
clergy live in the village; so church people organised prayer
Bishop Maurice said: "Everyone was very grateful for the church
- they might not come there to worship, but they are grateful to
know it is there. We don't have clergy in every community, and they
can't be everywhere. We need to look at having people in every
community who can act as a spiritual presence."
A theological reflection day for clergy has been planned for
this autumn, specifically on the flooding.
The Bishop said that there had been wonderful support from other
faith communities: £16,000 had been raised by Muslim communities in
West Yorkshire; and practical help had come from members of the
Hindu community, who drove in to do what they could.
Retired clergy should be deployed to help relieve pressure on
resident clergy, the report recommends.
Bishop Maurice said: "We are asking ourselves, are we supportive
enough of our clergy, and how can we make better use of the retired
The report was based on first-hand accounts given by clergy who
were working and living in the Somerset Levels, and by
parishioners, about their experiences of the winter of