Hurricanes Harvey, Irma impact ELCA congregations

Hurricane Harvey, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005, hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 26. The hurricane threatened millions of people with multiple days of heavy rain, winds of 130 mph and rising tides, with rainfall topping 50 inches in some areas. At presstime, at least 70 deaths were attributed to Harvey. Lutheran Disaster Response’s affiliate continues to be active on the ground, collaborating with community leaders and officials to initiate the proper responses, particularly in long-term recovery efforts.

The church buildings and homes of many ELCA members were impacted, with recovery efforts expected to take years. “The good news is ministry continues,” said Michael Rinehart, bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod. “The church is the church, regardless of buildings.”

On the heels of Harvey, at presstime Hurricane Irma was hitting the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall in Florida and Hurricane Maria was forming in the Atlantic.

For more information or to help, visit Lutheran Disaster Response.

First Rostered Ministers Gathering held

The ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering 2017, the first of its kind, brought together more than 900 pastors and deacons to Atlanta, Aug. 7-10, under the theme “On the Way … Together.” The overall tone of the gathering was optimistic and encouraged a time of unity, while acknowledging the current challenges for organized religion in the U.S. Keynote speakers included Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton; James Alexander Forbes Jr., a well-known preacher and senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York City; and Rachel Held Evans, a New York Times best-selling author. Gathering programming included Bible studies, small group conversations, workshops, and opportunities for service and learning in the Atlanta area.

News from ELCA Advocacy

Many houses of worship and service groups opened their doors to provide critical support, food, shelter and spiritual care for thousands who were displaced during and after recent hurricanes. But as many public officials acknowledged, it will take months, if not years, to rebuild and recover from the flooding damage. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking after Hurricane Harvey, acknowledged that “housing is the biggest long-term concern in the hurricane zone.”

Chris Markert, director for evangelical mission in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, said, “Here on the Gulf Coast we’re used to hurricanes and the work of recovery that lasts for years. But it still overwhelms you because of the sheer loss of homes and property. And as a person of faith, one of the most difficult realities is knowing that communities of poverty do not have the means to rebuild and start over.”

Lutherans affirm that housing and homes are places of critical stability, integral to our needs and communal life. The ELCA social message on “Homelessness” echoes this, upholding that “housing is a fundamental human right” and that faith leaders are called to advocate for public policies that support those without shelter.

There is still time for Lutherans to call their lawmakers in support of accompanying disaster relief programs such as Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief, Individuals and Households Program and other local resources. ELCA Advocacy supports housing policies that help rebuild communities and address long-term poverty, such as the Community Development Block Grants and specialized rural assistance. With steep cuts proposed for 2018, congregations are urged to add their voices in support of these vital programs in public dialogue.

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