A remarkable journey
When members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Brant Beach, N.J., returned to their building after Hurricane Sandy’s wake struck the northern U.S. Atlantic coast in late 2012, things looked grim. “We lost almost everything,” says Lona LeSchander, president of Holy Trinity’s congregation council. “We had about 8½ inches of water and in the sanctuary and 2½ feet in our social hall.”
Inside the sanctuary, the floors, organ and pews were horribly damaged. The piano and sound system would have to be replaced. And most of the building’s appliances -- the furnace, air conditioning unit, refrigerator and dishwasher -- were ruined.
“I had never been in this situation before,” says James Jacob, Holy Trinity’s pastor. He realized that Holy Trinity had a long journey ahead.
Members began looking for creative ways that they could fundraise and restore their worship space.
The congregation accepted help from anyone who would volunteer it. Members who had been away from the congregation for years came back to work to clean up the damage. Members of other ELCA congregations came to help, along with volunteers from Amish and Georgia Southern Baptist Conference backgrounds.
James began an effort to raise money with resources he had lying around his office. “A number of years ago we had these appointment cards made.” The original intent was to use the appointment cards to remind members to come and get their picture taken for a congregational directory. Now James used the cards to solicit donations from anyone who could help.
“I just made up a short little plea for help and started reaching out to Lutheran pastors and congregations,” he says. “We’ve raised more than $100,000 from people giving everything from $200 to $2,000.”
Another member sold scrap metal removed from the church building and members’ houses to help raise funds.
Janet Nelson, a local artist and member of Holy Trinity, salvaged pieces of the congregation’s ruined piano and began making jewelry that she sold online.
“She’s made earrings and necklaces,” Lona says. “She’s working on a pendant now. She has taken copper from the piano and mixed it with sand from the storm and coffee grounds from our coffee hour.”
Now members of Holy Trinity are seeing all of their hard work pay off. After worshiping at a neighboring congregation for nearly eight months, they are finally able to worship in their own sanctuary again.
And they’ve learned a lot about what it means to be connected as a church.
“What has been remarkable for me in terms of my journey,” says Marty Chaffee, Holy Trinity’s council member responsible for communications, “is a greater appreciation of the body of Christ and the extent to which we all bring gifts and talents.”
“People happened to be in the right place at the right time to help us with their skills,” Marty continues. “Lona has a remarkable gift in leadership. Pastor is a wonderful spiritual leader.”
“Bob Leifeste, our properties chair, is everywhere and oversees everything that is being done,” Lona adds. “He guides all of us volunteers, all of the volunteers from other churches.”
“It’s been a touching journey for every one of us, and I don’t think that any of us will look at the destruction that comes from natural disasters in the same way,” says Marty. “We have lots to be thankful for.”
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