By Stacey Egger and Cheryl Magness
This is an updated version of a previous story.
As it has so many times before, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is responding in the aftermath of a devastating storm.
Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida on Oct. 10 as the strongest storm the area has ever seen — a Category 4 hurricane. Some evacuated ahead of the storm, but many did not.
“I think the rapid intensification caught a lot of people off guard,” said the Rev. Michael Meyer, manager of LCMS Disaster Response.
The Rev. Paul McComack, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Panama City, Fla., estimated that nearly half of his congregation chose not to evacuate.
Tragically, one member died from a heart attack during the hurricane. Impassable streets kept emergency vehicles from his home.
Trinity suffered significant damage, including to the sanctuary roof and the youth building, but fared well enough that it will be able to serve as a hub for the area’s relief and recovery efforts in the days to come.
McComack said that his biggest concern right now is for his members: “I’ve got a lot of people I haven’t been able to find yet.”
(LCMS/Al Dowbnia — Cinematography/Sound | Amanda Booth — Editing/Graphics)
‘A total loss’
LCMS Southern District President Rev. Eric C. Johnson said the district’s first priority is to provide for the needs of pastors and their families — to “get the caregivers up and running so they can care for others.”
In addition to Trinity, two other LCMS churches in Panama City experienced the storm’s wrath.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church had damage to its fellowship hall, trees and church steeple.
Redemption Lutheran Church, a small, predominately black congregation in Panama City, was described by Johnson as “a total loss.”
As for Mexico Beach, Fla., which has been dubbed Hurricane Michael’s “ground zero,” Johnson estimated that 80 percent of the town’s structures were “scoured from the face of the earth by the tidal surge.”
He said that Living Water Lutheran Church and the home of its pastor, the Rev. David Gieseking, were both “wiped out.”
Congregations in and around the affected areas began responding immediately. The morning after Michael made landfall, the Rev. Jay Winters, pastor of University Lutheran Chapel in Tallahassee, Fla., headed into his neighborhood with several members of his congregation to begin cleaning up.
“I’m going to start with my neighbor here, who has a big pine tree that just missed his house by inches,” said Winters. “We’ll get that off of his property and out to the road.”
Meanwhile, Synod and district leaders have begun preparations for long-term relief. LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WRHC) Disaster Response has sent spiritual care resources and been in contact with both the LCMS Southern and Florida–Georgia districts.
Meyer said that Camp Restore in New Orleans will be transferring tools and equipment — sent to Baton Rouge for flood relief in 2016 — to Panama City.
While these tools will be a great resource, WRHC Disaster Response is assessing what additional equipment and tools might be needed.
‘Strong history of responding’
Assessment continues to be a challenge due to power outages and fallen power lines.
Meyer traveled from St. Louis to Florida after the hurricane to meet with Southern District Disaster Response Coordinator Rev. Ed Brashier, the leaders of local congregations and President Johnson.
“We’re going to see each of these congregations … to assess and see with our own eyes what’s going on. And once we do that … we’ll be able to start putting together an action plan for response,” Meyer said.
The Rev. Randal Ehrichs, pastor of Good Shepherd, Panama City, said he’s “never seen so much devastation, so much heartbreak, so much shock. When the people come in, sometimes all they do is just look at me … and then the tears start coming.”
Ehrichs said it was “wonderful” when President Johnson visited and “gave that word of encouragement that ‘You’re gonna be okay.’”
During an interview on Worldwide KFUO, Johnson said that the first need is prayer.
“We pray to the God of all provision, that He will provide the necessary things for us to be able to move forward. And then we can give with generous and sacrificial giving to help those who have been devastated.”
McComack echoed that sentiment. “Pray for us. I know that our church body has a strong history of responding in situations like this. … I look forward to meeting a lot of Lutherans from all over the country in the weeks ahead.”
Thrivent Financial has offered to match up to $1 million in donations made to hurricane relief at thrivent.com through year’s end.
Donations qualifying for matching funds can be directed to LCMS Disaster Response by selecting “LCMS Disaster Response” on the “Hurricanes Florence and Michael” page. Learn more by visiting thrivent.com/disasterresponse.
Contributions for LCMS World Relief and Human Care disaster response efforts can be made online at lcms.org/givenow/disaster or by sending the text message LCMSHURRICANES to the number 41444.
Donate over the telephone by calling 888-930-4438.
Follow the stories and learn more online at lcms.org/disaster.
Volunteers and those who prefer to donate to the LCMS Southern District can find information at southernlcms.org.
Stacey Egger (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at Thales Academy in Rolesville, N.C., and attends Our Savior Lutheran Church in Raleigh, N.C.
Posted Oct. 19, 2018