ELCA NEWS SERVICE
December 4, 2012
Lutheran world leaders visit U.S. areas marred in Hurricane Sandy's wake
CHICAGO (ELCA) - In a historic visit, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and a delegation of church leaders representing The Lutheran World Federation traveled together Nov. 30-Dec. 1 to areas of the United States impacted by storms produced from Hurricane Sandy.
Eleven leaders of the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation met with about 200 ELCA members, pastors and residents, particularly in New Jersey and New York, who suffered loss from the storms in mid-October. The leaders surveyed the destruction and damage of ELCA church buildings and residential homes. More than 10 ELCA church buildings were severely damaged, and thousands of ELCA members are still displaced and/or rebuilding after the storm, which caused an estimated $50 billion in damage along the northern U.S. Atlantic coast.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, called the pastoral visit historic. The “dividing walls that have separated the Lutheran church bodies throughout the world are gone,” and the federation and ELCA are working in tangible fellowship. He said the visit also indicates that the Lutheran churches in Africa, some among the fastest-growing in the global church, are standing on their own to come to the United States to express their care and solidarity.
“The delegation embodies the presence of the whole of The Lutheran World Federation with its 143 member churches in order to bring a word of comfort to those suffering and a message of hope for those rebuilding their lives,” wrote the Rev. Martin Junge in a Nov. 27 letter to Hanson. Junge is general secretary of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
“Through their physical presence the (communion’s) delegation wishes to support the ELCA as it sets out to respond to the spiritual and material challenges resulting from Hurricane Sandy,” Junge wrote.
“Indeed, there is no church so big, so old, (and) so well-resourced that it would not heavily depend on the love, care and solidarity of others. Conversely, there is no church so small, so young and with so scarce resources that it would not have gifts to share with others. We wish the accompaniment of the (communion’s) delegation to be an embodiment of these relationships of reciprocity and mutuality that are constitutive of the gift of being churches in communion, and for which The Lutheran World Federation stands,” he wrote.
Representing the communion was the Rev. Elisa Buberwa, bishop of the Northwestern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania; the Rev. Cindy Halmarson, bishop of the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; and the Rev. Dr. Veikko Munyika of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia. The church in Tanzania shares a companion relationship with the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, and the church in Namibia is in relationship with the ELCA New Jersey Synod.
“I’m a strong believer that we need to do communal public lament,” said Hanson, in addressing a large group of ELCA pastors at a Nov. 30 meeting in West Hartford, Conn. “People must weep and mourn that which is no longer, just like in the Book of Lamentations, before they are ready to relinquish the sadness and move on” from the disaster.
Hanson also acknowledged the “tremendous strength people have to cope, and the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases.” A critical component of the trip, Hanson shared, “is that we accompany you and are here for you.”
Munyika agreed, adding that television news and images viewed from afar was one thing, but witnessing it in person is more powerful. “I came to the United States to do what emails, faxes and phone calls cannot do -- to express solidarity, love and care in person, (and) to listen to the people who have experienced the reality here.”
Listening to survivors of the storm share their stories was especially helpful, according to the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, executive director for congregational and synodical ministries, ELCA churchwide ministries. “When you see one disaster, you’ve seen one disaster,” he said. “People’s narratives are very important.”
“My heart is here for you. This is a new mission for the church. Something we learned from Hurricane Katrina is that we can’t overlook the power of the gospel in the community,” said Bouman.
For Halmarson seeing flood-damage areas was overwhelming. The Lutheran World Federation “has come to the United States to say, ‘We’re walking with you.’ For the very first time, I will go home and tell them about the caregivers in New York and New Jersey. We’ll keep walking with you in prayer.”
Buberwa told survivors that this show of the communion’s support was only the beginning. “I will take all these stories and share them with people at home, and (we) will pray for you. Our prayers are with you.”
Prayers are only one part of the church’s response, said the Rev. Michael Stadie, who is coordinating the ELCA’s disaster response efforts. Stadie is assessing financial needs and partnering with local Lutheran social ministry organizations.
“Our three areas of focus are providing emotional and spiritual care, volunteer coordination and long-term recovery,” he said, adding that disaster response can come in many forms, such as volunteers mucking out homes.
The Rev. Robert A. Rimbo, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, and the Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr., bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod, expressed their gratitude for the pastoral visit, acknowledging that they would be working together for many months ahead.
Riley said that the ELCA New Jersey Synod was only beginning to assess the damages. “Four weeks later, and we’re still in the assessment stage. So many people have been displaced, and two church (buildings) are so badly damaged. It took weeks to even track people down. We will be working on recovery for a long time.”
Herb Nellis, a member of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Keyport, N.J., is prepared for the long haul of recovery work. The retired truck driver and small-business owner lost the first floor of his house and was living in a house offered to him by a friend. “How do I get through this?” he asked. “Knowing that people care. You think that you’ve lost everything in the storm but (then come to) realize that you haven't lost everything. You have the care and concern of people.”
In addition to organizing relief efforts in the United States, the ELCA is responding in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy overseas. ELCA members are providing basic needs such as food, water and shelter in the Caribbean through ELCA Disaster Response. In Haiti, outbreaks of cholera have been reported. The ELCA has been working with the Lutheran Church of Haiti to build capacity in preserving health and wellness related to cholera.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with 4.2 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com