Churches should be encouraged and assisted to build to a standard that would allow the structures to serve as hurricane shelters.
Those were the comments of West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Saturday night.
He made his remarks at a gospel concert fund-raiser for the West Bay Assembly of God, which needs $60,000 for its roof.
Mr. Glidden suggested that the church apply to government for a financial contribution, with the understanding that the building would be available to the public when needed as a shelter.
The advantage to government, along with the increase in available accommodations, would be the fact that church buildings are used year-round and maintained by their congregations, so there would be no added costs for upkeep, he said.
Minister for Infrastructure Arden McLean agreed. Government has already assisted at least two churches this way, he said, citing the hall for the United Church in West Bay and the new Baptist Church on Pedro Castle Road, for which ground was broken this past weekend.
The previous administration also had a policy of assisting the churches, Mr. Glidden said. Sometimes the financial assistance was used to improve construction to a level that could withstand a Category 5 storm instead of a Category 3. In some cases, what was needed involved increased generator capacity and water supplies.
Another reason he supports the use of churches as hurricane shelters is the comfort factor.
People who attend the church will feel more comfortable there in times of stress because they know the building, Mr. Glidden said.
Churches are seen as holy places, he added, so even if people who do not attend a particular church they will be inclined to respect the facilities offered.
There is a history of church and community partnership, Mr. Glidden pointed out.
Churches play an important role by helping people in their relationship with God, as well as through counselling services and youth programmes.
‘We value the contribution all churches make to the community,’ he said.
The West Bay Assembly of God started its new building on Finch Drive in February. Pastor Trevor Ebanks said he had spoken informally in June with Mr. Anthony Eden, Minister for Health and Human Services, who told him he would speak with his technical people about the project.
Pastor Ebanks anticipates a more formal meeting in the next few weeks.
‘Church and state should work together,’ he said.