The tornado that ripped through Cullman last Wednesday has been rated EF-4 by those who are experts in such things. Something about 175 miles-per-hour winds, the scope of destruction, and perhaps some other meteorological measures combine to give it a tornadic rating second only to the 200+ miles-per-hour EF-5.
I’m not a tornado expert, so I have to take their word for it. I do, though, have a good eye for observing people, and I’d rate our monastic community’s response to the tornado as EF-5, and second to none. Something about encountering 175 miles-per-hour winds with calm aplomb, the scope of constructive and prayerful reaction, and perhaps some other intangible monastic measures combine to give it the highest possible community rating.
I think our monastic community has weathered this EF-4 storm as well as it could possibly be weathered. We took the ‘heads up’ from the local news seriously. We knew where to gather when the sirens went off. After the tornado passed through around 3:00 pm, we did a quick initial survey of the buildings before we had to head back to shelter due to another round of sirens. Meanwhile, Sister Regina had prepared a simple dinner of scrambled eggs and biscuits in the darkened kitchen, Sister Lynn Marie had retrieved our Vespers books from chapel. We were well prepared for another stretch of sitting patiently in the hallway, praying Vespers by flashlight and listening to the weather radio. When the all-clear finally came, we helped each other up darkened steps, flashlights in hand. We awakened the next day and gathered for Lauds, just as we do every morning. Then we got to work.
The days since the tornado have seen constant activity related to the storm and its lengthy aftermath of power and telephone outages. Some Sisters have kept our liturgy going. Some have kept stove-brewed coffee flowing. Some have handled business-related issues. Some have kept in touch with civic officials and helped us participate in city-wide assistance efforts. All of us that are able have worked diligently to clear our grounds. Our Sisters on mission in Birmingham have lent a supportive hand. Our monastic administrators have provided secure and steady leadership. And most importantly, we have kept up our rounds of liturgical and personal prayer.
However the EF-5 rating doesn’t apply only to our monastic community because we have not weathered this alone. Our wonderful staff has been like a second family to us, pitching in in a thousand ways over the past week, often going heroically beyond their usual job descriptions. Golden Construction, ArchitectureWorks, and others have helped us quickly tend to repairs and keep the most essential equipment operating under generator power. Numerous family, friends, and other monastic communities have lent support
And then there is the City and County of Cullman, a community under extraordinary stress, that while suffering from a 38-mile EF-4 gash, has organized a wide array relief efforts, kept accurate communication flowing, adapted to evolving circumstances, maintained safety and security, and kept hope alive for many who have lost nearly everything. Much of this effort has been on the official level, but much has simply been neighbor helping neighbor. Various churches have provided free supplies of everything from diapers to food. A family in a pickup truck has driven around town distributing bottled water to anyone who looked thirsty. Local restaurateurs have been cooking free meals in the high school parking lot using food donated by townspeople. And so much more…
Something about encountering 175 miles-per-hour winds with dignity and composure, the scope of compassionate and skillful response, and other intangible civic measures combine to give our monastic community, our employees and friends, and the people of Cullman the highest possible community rating – EF-5. Second to none.
Postscript: I finally sat down with newspapers last night and caught up on several days of news. It seems like there are “EF-5 communities” scattered across Alabama, the Southeast, and beyond. Many have lent and organized much-needed assistance of all kinds. Our monastic community is so very grateful to all who have assisted, supported, and prayed for us and all those in our city and state during these challenging days. Please continue your prayers, especially for those who lost family members, homes, and businesses in this devastating storm.
On Tuesday afternoon, thanks to the efforts of the Cullman Power Board and TVA, power was restored to our neighborhood, including the monastery. We are still without landline phone service and internet capability. As soon as we are able to access our website software, photos will go up on the website. Meanwhile, we all remain well and in good spirits. Thanks be to God.