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ELCA New Orleans Congregations Recovering, Pastors' Well-Being a Concern

3/15/2006 12:00:00 AM

     LAKE GENEVA, Wis. (ELCA) -- Nearly all of the New Orleans-
area congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA) have begun worshipping again, and the Lutheran bishop that
serves New Orleans said he's concerned about the well-being of
pastors that serve these congregations.
     The Rev. Paul J. Blom, bishop of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana
Gulf Coast Synod, Houston, reported to the ELCA Conference of
Bishops on the congregations' progress as they attempt to locate
displaced members, repair church buildings and resume regular
activities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that
followed.
     The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the
church, consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding
bishop and secretary.  It met here March 2-7.
     "My (biggest) concern right now has to do with the well-
being of the pastors and how long they can sustain this kind of
stress as leaders, trying to care for all of these people," Blom
said in an interview with the ELCA News Service. In addition to
providing counseling services, Blom said as many as 14 pastors
and their spouses will attend a retreat in June to rest and
discuss their storm-related experiences.
     The situation for ELCA congregations in the New Orleans area
is one of contrasts.  Many congregations have different
worshippers than they did before the hurricane; many members were
displaced by the storm and flood that followed, Blom said.
     House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Harvey, La., south of New
Orleans, was closed after years of struggling; another in
Chalmette, La., in devastated St. Bernard Parish, may be in
jeopardy, he said.  The building at Gethsemane Lutheran Church,
Chalmette, was badly damaged by floodwaters, members are
"scattered" and the congregation has only been able to hold
worship "3 or 4 times," Blom said.  Most of the homes and
businesses in the parish will have to be leveled, he said.
     The congregation of Grace Lutheran Church, New Orleans, is
meeting in a funeral chapel because its building was flooded by
seven feet of water that remained for more than three weeks, Blom
said.
     To the west and north of New Orleans, three congregations --
Christ the King, Kenner, Galilean Lutheran Church, LaPlace, and
Hosanna Lutheran Church, Mandeville -- gained new members because
people relocated there from the city, Blom said.  The synod is
giving a grant to Hosanna for a children's ministry leader
because of the influx of families with young children.
     Peace Lutheran Church, Slidell, La., has become a place that
houses work groups that travel to the Gulf Coast to help in
recovery and repair, Blom said.  "It's become their mission.
They're focused on this," he said.
     Blom said it will probably take 10 years before the New
Orleans-area community is functioning normally again.
     "Part of the issue is that the infrastructure of the whole
city went down with the hurricane," he said, pointing out that
essential government services such as police and fire services
have to be reconstructed.  "To rebuild all of that is taking a
lot of time," Blom said.
     For most people the recovery process continues.  Residents
are cleaning out their homes and retrieving personal belongings.
"The emotional level of this thing is obviously going to take a
lot longer.  I think the pastors have done a good job of trying
to pull their congregations back together," Blom said.
     The ELCA has been "phenomenal" in responding to the
situation, the bishop said, expressing thanks.  ELCA members gave
more than $20 million to ELCA Domestic Disaster Response for
Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery, and some gave more than
$1.1 million directly to the synod to help, Blom said.
     The ELCA Northwest Synod of Wisconsin sent a "portable
church" to the Gulf Coast Synod, paid off the building's debt and
insured it for one year, he said, but because of the damage in
New Orleans, there was no place to put the portable church.  For
now the synod is using it for a new mission start in The
Woodlands, Texas.
     Synod congregations not directly affected by Katrina or
Hurricane Rita -- which struck the Gulf Coast on the Louisiana-
Texas border following Katrina -- gave additional mission support
funds to the synod in the remaining months of 2005 to make up for
congregations that couldn't meet their mission support goals.
     "We, as a synod, had a dip in our mission support in the
last couple of years, and I think the hurricanes woke us up in a
way that nobody could anticipate," Blom said.  "Mission support
grew in the last three months of 2005 and the first month of
2006, and we came out over the top of our budget.  That just blew
us away.  In light of all the stuff that's gone on you wouldn't
anticipate that's how it would work."
     The 2005 storms caused many members to discover some "core"
things about life, Blom said, and they realized "that the core of
the faith is really what is important."
---
     An audio version of this story is at
http://www.ELCA.org/audio/ on the ELCA Web site.
     Information about the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod,
including hurricane recovery information, is at
http://www.gulfcoastsynod.org/ on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
http://www.elca.org/news
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog

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