October 12, 2018
Dear Friends in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus, who stands with us in the midst of storms and strengthens us in faith and love.
It’s been a full few days as we’ve been watching and praying for those impacted by Hurricane Michael. We know the majority of the damage was in the Panhandle. I give abundant thanks for Panhandle Conference Dean, Pr. Tom Holdcraft, who has stayed in communication with us as he has received reports from other pastors and members in the area. You can read his full statement HERE. Here are some highlights of what we have learned about impact and damage:
- Messiah Lutheran Church in Panama City was severely damaged. Damage includes water in the sanctuary, fellowship hall, and pastor’s office. Damage also includes leaking ceilings and damaged walls. Many buildings around Messiah were destroyed.
- Pr. Mary Faith Nesmith, Interim Pastor at Messiah, experienced severe damage to the home she was renting (see pictures below). Damage is so extreme that she will have to relocate.
- The other ELCA congregations in the Panhandle reported debris and some water, but not significant damage.
- Individual members in congregations are still assessing and reporting personal property damage.
- Many are still without power.
In the face of a disaster, the human spirit (and, I believe, the power of the Holy Spirit), compels us to seek a way to respond. Thank you for the many prayers and statements of support and encouragement you have sent to me, my staff, and those you know are affected. I believe the prayers of the Body of Christ are powerful in strengthening solidarity and compassion for one another.
Here are other ways you can respond:
- financial donations to the Florida-Bahamas Synod Disaster Relief fund (click on the “give now” button on the home page of our web site) will be extremely helpful. We will work with Pr. Nesmith in finding her a safe place to live. We will walk with Messiah in filing the appropriate claims and navigating the processes of recovery and rebuilding. As other needs are reported, we will be able to respond.
- Donations of gift cards to stores like WalMart, Home Depot, Lowes, Publix, etc. are helpful for these requests. Please send donations to the synod office, so we can collect them and share them with the congregations who need them. This is a great way to support the local congregation’s capacity to respond to the requests and needs in their contexts.
- Let your pastor or Conference Dean know if your congregation would like to send a work team. Pr. Holdcraft is working with the local congregations in the Panhandle to activate volunteer teams who can offer initial support to Messiah and others. But there is not yet an infrastructure that can support volunteers who need overnight accommodations. When that infrastructure is in place, knowing where there is interest and ability to respond will be helpful.
- You can also register with Volunteer Florida, which is a partner organization that is able to coordinate a broad range of volunteers across denominations. We know there were other churches and communities deeply impacted, and will need help in recovery.
The urge to respond is now, but the need for response will be over the long-term, so our recommendation is to first respond with prayers, financial donations and gift card donations.
We have not yet received a request for supplies, and the synod office does not have a way of sorting, transporting and distributing supplies. So please be cautious about supply drives, unless you are working through an organization that has specifically requested them.
We are coordinating with pastors and others for spiritual, emotional, and pastoral care in the weeks ahead. We have pastors ready to provide respite and pastoral care. Lutheran Counseling Services is available to provide mental health and crisis care for those affected and those responding. I will be making a trip up to the Panhandle early next week, to be with the community of faith there for prayer, conversation, reflection, and support.
I was able to give a Facebook Live report yesterday with some of this same information. I plan on doing a report from the Panhandle next week and will share the timing of that report. Please continue to follow the Florida-Bahamas Facebook page for this information. I will continue to work with Sister Michelle Collins and Michele Hilton to ensure that information is updated and shared.
Dear friends, thank you for coming together in the face of this disaster and strengthening and supporting the Body of Christ through your prayers, expressions of concern, and eagerness to respond. I am blessed and humbled to serve alongside of you for the sake of the Gospel.
Together with you in Christ,
Here are some pictures of the damage to Pr. Nesmith’s home, as an example of what many are likely facing. Lord, strengthen those who have lost their homes and livelihoods in the face of this storm. Equip us as your church to come alongside them. May we find ways to restore life as we recover and respond.