By Adriane Dorr
Aaron Uphoff, finishing up his vicarage at Trinity Lutheran Church, Norman, Okla., didn’t get his planned-for day off on Monday, May 20. Instead, the vicar from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., watched on TV as a tornado devastated Moore, Okla., killing at least 24 people, some of them children.
“Right away, I put my clerical collar on and went up there [to Moore],” Uphoff explains. “I drove as far as I could, and when the traffic stopped, I parked at a house. The couple there gave me a bike and surgical gloves to take with me. At each checkpoint, they let me through because I had a collar on.”
Uphoff drove to the epicenter of the destruction and spent time simply walking through the neighborhoods.
“All the houses were gone,” he recalled. But, in the midst of the chaos, “You could tell where people were buried. You would see beehives of people above the rubble, digging very diligently.”
Uphoff said the reactions of those he met varied: “Some were so happy to have made it out alive, they were giddy about it. But next door, there would sit a guy with his dead dog, and he would be inconsolable.”
He also prayed with parents at Plaza Towers Elementary School, one of the schools where early local news sources reported casualties. “I saw a couple standing at the police line,” he said. “They were waiting to find out if their 9-year-old daughter, Emily, had made it out of the school. I prayed with them and told them, as I did hundreds of times yesterday, ‘Christ be with you.’ ”
“I prayed with as many people as I could,” Uphoff said. “I asked Christ for comfort and for the peace that surpasses all understanding, which is ours by virtue of Good Friday and Easter.”
Seeing firsthand the emotions of those affected by the tornado, he said, “reminded me of who we are as the church: When one member rejoices, we all rejoice together. When one member suffers, we all suffer together.”
Because the National Guard had quarantined the area, Uphoff was unable to return to Moore on Tuesday, May 21. But his vicarage church, Trinity Lutheran in Norman, is planning a prayer service for Wednesday, May 22, at 3:15 p.m., for all members of the congregation, its school and campus ministry, and area families.
Uphoff said his seminary formation was critical in preparing him to bear witness to Christ following the tornado: “It gave me one more opportunity, out of the countless others I’ve had on vicarage, to offer pastoral care interpersonally to people, to do my best to bring Christ to these people.”
Preparing for Trinity’s prayer service and reflecting on what he’s learned in the past 24 hours, Uphoff notes, “The church’s theology of the cross is just running through my mind right now. It’s held up for us in that our God manifests Himself and His love in a dead man hanging on a tree.”
Adds Uphoff: “In that regard, He, in a very real human way, sympathizes with us in His weakness so that when we go through something like this, we are being conformed to His likeness.”
To support those in need following the week’s devastating storms:
- Make an online gift at https://www.lcms.org/givenow/disaster.
- Mail checks payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).
Adriane Dorr is associate executive director for Strategic Communications for the LCMS.