An international delegation of representatives from the Lutheran World Federation and leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America traveled together recently to visit ELCA members, pastors and residents, particularly in New Jersey and New York, who suffered loss from storms produced by Hurricane Sandy.
A total of eleven leaders from LWF and ELCA met with about 200 ELCA members, surveying destruction and damage of ELCA church buildings and residential homes, ELCA said on Tuesday.
More than 10 ELCA church buildings were severely damaged by the storm a month earlier. Thousands of ELCA members are still displaced and/or rebuilding after the storm, which caused widespread damage.
Lutheran leaders from Canada, Namibia, and Tanzania were among those who joined leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said the visit meant that the "dividing walls that have separated the Lutheran church bodies throughout the world are gone."
He said the LWF and ELCA are working in a tangible fellowship, adding that the visit also shows that Lutheran churches in Africa are standing on their own to come to the United States to express their care and solidarity.
The Rev. Martin Junge, General Secretary of the LWF, told ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson in a Nov. 27 letter that the delegation represented the communion's 143 member churches, bringing with them "a word of comfort to those suffering and a message of hope for those rebuilding their lives."
He said the delegation wishes to support the ELCA as it responds to spiritual and material challenges from Hurricane Sandy.
"Indeed, there is no church so big, so old, (and) so well-resourced that it would not heavily depend on the love, care and solidarity of others. Conversely, there is no church so small, so young and with so scarce resources that it would not have gifts to share with others. We wish the accompaniment of the (communion's) delegation to be an embodiment of these relationships of reciprocity and mutuality that are constitutive of the gift of being churches in communion, and for which The Lutheran World Federation stands," he wrote.
LWF representatives included the Rev. Elisa Buberwa, bishop of the Northwestern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania; the Rev. Cindy Halmarson, bishop of the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; and the Rev. Dr. Veikko Munyika of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia.
The Rev. Munyika said that it is more powerful to see the effects of the storm in person.
"I came to the United States to do what emails, faxes and phone calls cannot do – to express solidarity, love and care in person, (and) to listen to the people who have experienced the reality here," the Rev. Munyika said.
Rev. Buberwa said the stories would be shared.
"I will tell all these stories and share them with people at home, and (we) will pray for you. Our prayers are with you," Rev. Buberwa said.
Rev. Michael Stadie, who is coordinating ELCA's disaster response effort said prayers are only a part of the church's response. He is assessing financial needs and partnering with local Lutheran social ministry groups.
"Our three areas of focus are providing emotional and spiritual care, volunteer coordination and long-term recovery," he said, adding that disaster response can come in many forms, such as volunteers mucking out homes.
The Rev. Robert A. Rimbo, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, and the Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr., bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod, expressed gratitude for the pastoral visit, acknowledging that they would be working together for many months ahead.
Riley said the New Jersey Synod was still in the assessment stage.
"We will be working on recovery for a long time," he said.
Herb Nellis, a member of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Keyport, N.J. and a retired truck driver and small business owner, lost the first floor of his house and was living in a house offered to him be a friend.
"How do I get through this?" he asked. "Knowing that people care. You think that you've lost everything in the storm but (then come to) realize that you haven't lost everything. You have the care and concern of people."