Editor’s note: This is the last in a series on practical topics for faith leaders.

The Rev. Ted Duck is just one of many local pastors who have persevered through the ravages of Hurricane Harvey without the benefits of flood insurance. Grants, generous volunteer efforts and donations have kept Dickinson’s Pine Drive Community Church going, but all area churches perennially face liability, casualty and even malpractice claims apart from the seasonal threats of storms.

Our Faith turned to Martin Birkbeck, division manager for Church Mutual Insurance Co., who insures congregations all over Texas, for advice on the matter. There are a number of local agencies and national companies which offer church coverage, but few which specialize in it.

Q. There are no seminary courses in insurance. How is a pastor to know what to do when it comes to fire, liability, malpractice, flood, wind storm, theft and other casualty losses? Is there a simple way to for them to determine if they are adequately covered?

A. Unfortunately, this is something we hear frequently from policyholders as insurance can be a complicated topic. We recommend finding an insurance provider you trust who understands your organizational needs. A house of worship can have very different insurance needs than the retail store down the street and it’s important your agent understands those differences so he or she can find the appropriate coverage for your needs. Pastors need agents who will educate them and help them understand important differences in coverage.

For example, our company will provide a free, no-obligation, on-site assessment and evaluation of a church’s current insurance policy so its pastor can be sure the policy covers his or her organization’s needs.

Q. Hundreds of congregations here were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Many were uninsured and more were likely underinsured. Can flood insurance, though federally offered, be part of a package of products that churches can purchase from a single source?

A. There are only 59 insurance carriers nationwide who are authorized by the federal government to write flood insurance otherwise covered by the National Flood Insurance Plan.

If a church wants to source all of its insurance through one source, the church could purchase flood insurance along with a package of other products through a licensed insurance agent. This person is licensed through the state and can procure flood insurance as well as other forms of insurance through other insurance carriers to fully meet the church’s needs.

Q. For the very largest churches, does it make sense to self-insure?

A. Self-insurance isn’t necessarily dependent on the overall size of the church. It is more dependent on the financial strength of the organization. Is it financially strong enough to sustain a loss? Also, if there is any sort of lien against the property, that may require insurance through a carrier. Insurance can be constructed to insure all or portions of risk that may include wind, hail, flood, fire or other perils.

Q. What can a church do to make good insurance more affordable? Do deductibles or site improvements such as fire extinguishers, defibrillators, security systems and so on help?

A. Affordability depends on the risk of loss. While you can’t readily move your facility out of harm’s way, you can make it more resistant to loss and therefore a more attractive risk to insurers. The story of the Three Little Pigs and its parallels to insurance on the gulf coast is ringing in my head. Will your risk of loss be viewed as built of hay, built of sticks or built of bricks? Hurricane shutters protecting windows and stained glass from the threat of flying debris make your risk more attractive. There are many other steps you can take to lower your risk. Our website has many risk control resources available for policyholders as well as the general public.

It’s important to ask about an insurance carrier’s knowledge of the church market. You also want an insurance partner who understands the importance of your mission and why it’s critical to keep your people and property safe.

Next week in Our Faith: Meet the new priest at Galveston’s Grace Episcopal.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com.

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