Hurricane Sandy leaves destruction and opportunity

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Three days after Hurricane Sandy swept through south-eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, members of Franconia Conference are still cleaning up from massive flooding, downed trees and power lines, and extensive power outages.

Communication has been challenging and reports are trickling in–entire communities are still without power, dealing with road closures, and running short on supplies as gas stations and grocery stores are also without electricity.

Some of the reports we have heard:

  • Power is still out at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.), Doylestown (Pa.), Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.), Methacton (Norristown, Pa.) and Garden Chapel (Dover, NJ) facilities.
  • Most of the Garden Chapel congregation is without power, although there have been no reports of damage to homes or the church building.
  • Methacton had and continues to have flooding in their basement/fellowship hall.  Without electricity, they are unable to pump the water out.
  • Many members of congregations along the Rte. 113 corridor around Souderton, Pa., are without power, as are the Conference Center offices and the Souderton Center, which is owned by Franconia Conference.  Penn View Christian School—the site of next weekend’s Conference Assembly—is also without electricity.   These power outages extend as far north as Allentown and as far east as the Delaware River.
  • Despite reports of wider damage in Philadelphia, Franconia congregations in the city survived the hurricane mostly unscathed.
Zume after Hurricane Sandy
Ben Walter, Ripple (right), and his housemates at the Zume House intentional community in Allentown, hosted their “power-less” neighbors for dinner the night after the hurricane. Luke Martin, Vietnamese Gospel, was among the guests.

In the midst of such wide-spread destruction, conference congregations are finding opportunities to minister to one another and their communities:

  • A young mother at Doylestown congregation made meals and delivered them to members of her congregation who were without power.
  • Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, once their own electricity was restored, opened their facilities to anyone in the community who needed heat, bathrooms, clean water, or a place to plug in their electronic devices.  They also expanded their weekly Community Meal to include those who needed a hot dinner.
  • Individuals throughout the region have opened their homes to friends and neighbors without power, delivered supplies to those who are stuck at home because of blocked roads, and brought their chainsaws to aid in the cleanup.
  • Members of Ripple Allentown (Pa.) who were without power met at their pastors’ home for a meal and to “warm up a bit,” reported Carolyn Albright. “It was a holy, blessed time together.”

Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership for Franconia Conference, received two emails from conference congregations encouraging members to share their resources with others in their congregation and neighborhoods.  “Often we try to get beyond these things to get to the work of church,” Kolb reflected, “but this IS church.  This is really the stuff of church.”

Because of the challenges of communication, conference staff has not been able to contact all conference congregations to learn of current conditions, needs, and relief efforts.  If you have any information, please report it to your LEADership Minister or any member of conference staff—don’t assume that the staff already know about it.

If your congregation and neighborhood has made it through relatively unscathed, please check in with other congregations in your region to see how you can help; also consider how your congregation’s facility or aid can help the greater community.

If you are aware of relief efforts or needs, please report these to conference staff so that they can connect needs with resources.  The conference email and phones are up and running.

On Monday, as the hurricane was approaching, Michael King, a member of Salford and the dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, Va.), sent out an email to seminary students and staff.  “I don’t know precisely how we theologize at a time like this,” King wrote.  “Jesus teaches that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and that tragedies are not signs that we’re out of God’s favor. The Bible is also rich with images of God’s care, of God as the mother who shelters us under tender wings.  My loved ones, your loved ones, and all of us are in my heart and prayers amid the yearnings for God’s shelter.”

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