By Stacey Egger
As it has so many times before, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is coming together in the aftermath of a devastating storm.
When Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, Oct. 10, several LCMS churches in the Panama City area suffered serious damage, and a Mexico Beach church building was completely destroyed.
Michael hit the coastline as the strongest storm the area has ever seen — a Category 4 hurricane. At least one LCMS pastor in Panama City lost his home.
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.
He has still not been able to contact many of those members, but before cell service went out completely, he talked to his congregational president, who described the area as “looking like the apocalypse — complete and total devastation.”
Trinity suffered significant damage during the storm’s initial impact. Tragically, one member of McComack’s congregation died from a heart attack during the hurricane. Impassable streets kept emergency vehicles from his home.
‘Strong history of responding’
Congregations in and around the affected areas have already begun work on relief efforts.
On Thursday morning, the Rev. Jay Winters, pastor of University Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, Fla., headed out with several members of his congregation to begin the cleanup.
“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.”
Winters told his congregation that “it’s about their safety first, but then after that, we … want to serve our neighbors, and … help them restore their homes and … property.”
Synod and district leaders have begun preparations for hurricane relief. LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WRHC) Disaster Response has sent spiritual care resources and been in contact with the LCMS Southern and Florida–Georgia districts regarding the relief effort.
Meyer said 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.
Assessment has been difficult so far due to power outages and fallen power lines.
“We haven’t had a chance to … talk with all of the pastors,” Meyer said. “There’s difficulty with phone lines being down [and with] non-functioning cell phones. Most of these people ended up evacuating, and they’re not home yet to see what happened.”
Meyer will travel to Florida to meet with Southern District Disaster Response Coordinator Rev. Ed Brashier, the leaders of local congregations and LCMS Southern District President Rev. Eric C. Johnson on Monday morning.
“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.
Brashier said that if the damage to Trinity, Panama City, is not too severe, the church will serve as a home base for the relief effort, with the Southern District working on ways to feed, house and provide for volunteers.
He encourages people to check their schedules and consider blocking out time to help with the recovery.
Volunteer efforts will be coordinated in the weeks to come. During an interview on Worldwide KFUO, President Johnson said that what is needed right now 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,” Johnson said. “And then we can give with generous and sacrificial giving to help those who have been devastated.”
McComack agrees. “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. 12, 2018