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Blackout builds character and community

by Louisville Seminary | Oct 01, 2008
By Toya Richards Hill

In the stillness that God provided during eight long days without electricity, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary students and staff got a chance to bond as community and witness the resilience and character of those called to serve.

The Seminary – and practically all of the Metro Louisville area – lost electricity Sunday, Sept. 14, following the most severe wind storm on record in Kentucky. More than 500,000 Kentuckians were without power after winds clocked at up to 75 miles an hour knocked down trees and power lines across the area.

Louisville Seminary, which sits in a scenic, tree-lined neighborhood, was in an area especially hit hard, and electricity was not restored to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) institution until the evening of Monday, Sept. 22. With everything from the email server to the main switchboard out, Seminary officials shut down the school for one week, and launched contingency plans for resuming classes until the crisis ended.

Sixty people – about 37 households that also included children – remained on campus during the outage and were supported by each other, staff, and Louisville Seminary friends and supporters. No one was injured during the storm.

“All who stayed were exemplary … in terms of their grit, character, demeanor, and joyous support of one another,” said Dr. Dean K. Thompson, Louisville Seminary president. “Our students, their families, and our employees, who creatively and tirelessly served, displayed a resilience and character that makes us all very grateful, even a bit proud.”

Thompson, whose own home on campus also lost power, said the Seminary community rallied together, from the facilities crew to food service staff. Rudimentary services like charging cell phones and taking hot showers were possible in a designated area on campus with the help of a few generators.

Grills also were set up on the patio of an area on campus known as the Tri-C, located between two residence halls, and most who stayed ate meals together in that space. Grocery store gift cards, provided by members of the Board of Trustees, were given to students, and on a few nights the administration also provided dinner.

“We made sure that there was enough food, and we checked regularly on whether there were special needs,” health related or any other kind, Thompson said. “We stayed in constant contact and communication with people on campus.”

Becky Schwandt, who graduated in May with a Master of Divinity degree and is now enrolled in the Master of Theology degree program, said joining together for those communal meals was a significant part of making it through the situation.

Everyone made sure people had enough, and whatever anybody needed it was resolved around those meals, she said. “There really are a huge variety of gifts here.”

“We had a chance to know each other,” said Fletcher Padoko, a second-year student getting a Master of Arts in Religion degree. He hails from the African nation of Malawi and said going without electricity is a common experience back home.

The situation “also gave us a feeling of how others live in other countries,” said Padoko, who lives on campus with his wife.

Senior Erin Long, who is working on her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree, said she savored the chance to simply slow down and relax. “The key part to me was the time for real conversation,” she said.

The Rev. Kilen K. Gray, dean of students, commended the students for all their efforts in an email he sent out following the crisis.

“Although our struggle can hardly be compared to those in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and other places that are suffering a far direr emergency than ours, our experience did nonetheless reveal that common bond of human care for other human beings that I believe is the hallmark of this community,” he said.

“I want to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to the students of LPTS for the way you cared for, check on, helped, covered, thought about, cooked for, ate with, looked out for, prayed for and with, played with, contacted, advocated for, and blessed each other during this past week’s power outage,” Gray went on to say.

“I pray that the light of communal love that was shown in the dark, with no lights, will continue to shine forth brightly as we continue to work together this academic year,” he said.

Dr. David C. Hester, dean of the seminary, vice president for academic affairs and the Harrison Ray Anderson Professor of Pastoral Theology, said faculty are now working to find ways to make up for the academic time that was lost. “We are slowly getting back to normal,” he said.

“It was a very difficult week, obviously,” Hester noted. But, “the community responded well. … It was the Seminary community at its best.”

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