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Ministry Protection continues proactive agenda

Ministry Protection continues proactive agenda

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Ministry Protection continues proactive agenda

July 2, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0876}

NOTE: A headshot of Mark Thomas is available at

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

LAKELAND — The Florida Conference’s Department of Ministry Protection is continuing to move forward with several programs designed to help local churches manage their risk and protect their ministries.

Mark Thomas
That’s the word from Mark Thomas, director of Ministry Protection (formerly Risk Management), who said the programs run the gamut, from education and safety to prevention and mitigation.

“We’re very excited about the number of ways our office is being proactive,” he said. “We’re using online communication tools, on-site safety inspections, and partnering with a supplier of defibrillators as just part of an overall effort to keep people safe.”

Education through online seminars
Thomas is most excited about the new, monthly webinars presented by his department. A webinar is an educational seminar offered online. Participants simply visit and follow the prompts to join.

“We’ve developed this series of webinars, with monthly topics and national and local expert guest presenters,” Thomas said. “The webinars are designed to be about 30 minutes in length and provide clear, timely and relevant information about a wide variety of risk management issues, from hurricane protection to child and youth safety.”

The series is a first for Ministry Protection, Thomas said.

“With the high price of gas and the need to reach as many people in the local church as possible, we just felt that using our existing technology was the right way to go,” he said.

Advanced registration is not needed to participate in a webinar and there is no cost, Thomas added. “Just click and go,” he said.

The most recent webinar was held June 18 and covered hurricane preparedness and protection. The next webinar is July 23, 2 p.m., and will focus on local church facility usage and certificates of insurance. In August, the topic is “Mitigating Damage: Keeping a Small Loss Small.”

Preparing for, responding after a hurricane

As every Floridian knows, the 2008 hurricane season is well under way. In another proactive step, the Ministry Protection department has met with the conference’s property insurers and catastrophe adjusters in person to hammer out hurricane adjuster response procedures, claim documentation and payment advances.

“We met in person, on multiple occasions, with the vice president of claims for our major property insurance company in an effort to educate them on what we do in hurricane preparedness and what we need from them after a hurricane hits,” Thomas said.

Not only will this help improve adjuster response in the time immediately following a loss, says LaNita Battles, claims specialist for the conference, it will assist in managing the claim more effectively and allow the church to start the process of recovery sooner.

Thomas has also been invited to appear on an expert guest panel with Dr. William Gray, noted hurricane forecaster from Colorado State University, in July.  The panel was developed by Lexington Insurance Company, the major property insurer for the conference, and will continue to foster the personal relationship between the conference and Lexington.

Discontinuing 15-passenger vans, offering premium refunds

Following Ministry Protection’s recommendations against the ownership and use of 15-passenger vans at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference, churches within the conference have stepped up in unprecedented fashion to greatly reduce the risk of a catastrophic accident. 

“Remarkably, 84 15-passenger vans have been sold or otherwise disposed of since the beginning of the year,” Thomas said, adding that level of cooperation among conference churches is admirable and a testament to the emphasis that local churches have placed on protecting their people and ministries.

The recommendation to discontinue using the vans was made after hearing reports questioning their safety. The vans, Thomas said, are extremely dangerous.

“It is well established by safety experts and the insurance industry that 15-passenger vans pose a considerable and catastrophic risk to drivers and occupants,” Thomas emphasized. “The Florida Conference strives to be the recognized leader in church safety issues, and the proactive involvement at the local church level toward this goal has been amazing.”

The Florida Conference Ministry Protection department recently began a partnership with Cardiac Science to provide automatic external defibrillators to churches. It’s one of many ways the Ministry Protection department is helping churches provide the safest environment for the people they serve. Photo courtesy of Ministry Protection. Photo #08-0918.

Currently, 59 conference churches still use 15-passenger vans.

To continue to assist in the transition to safer transportation, Ministry Protection is offering a $2,000 refund on van insurance premiums for churches that sell their 15-passenger vans by the end of the year.

Caring for members, guests: making defibrillators available

The committee that oversees the Ministry Protection department recently approved a partnership with Cardiac Science, a worldwide leader in providing automatic external defibrillators (AEDs).

Each year, 200,000 Americans experience sudden cardiac arrest outside the hospital, according to the Ministry Protection Web site. On average, only 6 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims survive. CPR and early defibrillation with an AED increase the survival rate to between 65 percent and 70 percent.  The issue gained increased attention with the sudden death of noted newsman Tim Russert. Experts have said the use of an AED may have saved his life.

“AED placement is becoming increasingly common in areas where groups of people gather, and this needs to include churches,” Thomas said. “Having an AED or two is a way for a local church to become heart safe without having to do a lot of cost research on defibrillators.”

By partnering with Cardiac Science, conference churches can purchase AEDs at their “state rate,” which is about half the cost on the regular market, Thomas said. Cardiac Science is a market leader in Florida, providing AEDs to all Florida airports and numerous municipalities and police and fire departments.

For every 10 AEDs purchased by conference churches, the company will donate one back to the conference. Those “bonus” AEDs will be donated to churches that can’t afford to buy one on their own, Thomas said.

Safety, loss prevention inspections

A new program developed by Thomas and staff in his department last year features on-site evaluations of local churches to perform an “audit” of hazards and safety deficits of the property. Since last year, more than 40 churches have received these complementary evaluations.

Mark R. Waring, the region risk control consultant at Arthur J. Gallagher, the conference’s insurance broker, conducts a site visit at First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, in March 2007. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #08-0919. For longer description see photo gallery.

“During the visit, we look at personal, fire and life safety issues that could cause property loss or injury,” Thomas said. “Hundreds of hazards have been identified, preventing untold loss to life or property. Again, the cooperation at the local church level epitomizes the concept of ministry protection.”

Sessions have been held throughout the conference, providing training to more than 400 people in church leadership positions.

“This program didn’t exist one year ago,” Thomas said. “We’ve undertaken this effort at no cost to the conference or to the local church. Instead, insurance broker Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services and our insurers are footing the bill for the loss prevention and safety program at this time.”

As Thomas surveys the work of his department, he said he knows the improvements made are first steps in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.

“Local church ministry is what we’re here to protect,” he said. “Sure, we have to deal with bricks and mortar, dollars and cents, but it’s really about the people and the ministry of making disciples for the transformation of the world. We are all about making sure, to the best of our ability, that these important ministries are protected so they can continue and thrive.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.