I had lunch the other day with Pastor Dan Duke of Grace Lutheran Church in New Orleans, who was in our area on a pastoral exchange with Redeemer Lutheran in Jamison. A year after Katrina changed his call, his life, and the lives of his congregation members, I was fascinated to hear about the wrenching year they have had. While some long to "return to normal," Pr. Dan says what the city will emerge to, maybe 10 or more years down the line, is "a new normal." Pastorally, he's had to deal with people who have lived in a disaster zone for a year, with a congregation that includes people who transferred out, people whose extended family lost multiple homes, and those whose greatest inconvenience was waiting for cable to be turned on and want to get on with things. In the midst of this I was impressed by Pr. Dan's take on the experience of being reduced to waiting on the kindness of strangers:
“Strangers are praying for us. Strangers are helping to rebuild our church, and in the process they are not strangers any more,” Pr. Dan says. “If what’s happening to Grace isn’t a powerful message that God cares about us, I don’t know what is.”
At times like this a denomination can shine. Dan said his bishop was on the phone with him making arrangements to continue his salary before he even thought about that, and that the Gulf Coast Synod has been able to keep most pastors in place thanks to gifts from around the ELCA. An appeal to ELCA churches named Grace (there are more than 300 of them) around the U.S. has helped fund repairs to their building. Volunteers from all over have showed up to muck, to rebuild, and even delievered a used organ.
Pr. Dan's main point was this: The smallest bits of help are appreciated, and it's definitely not too late. Especially as we prepare to be inundated by media "anniversary" stories and perspectives, remember to pray for the people who struggle every day living amid constant reminders of disaster, for those who feel vulnerable in the only place they know as home, and for the pastors and church leaders who bear their burdens while managing their own.
Read more of what Dan had to say here.