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Lutherans, Episcopalians Aid Survivors of Hurricane Katrina

[Evangelical Lutheran Church in America]  CHICAGO -- Lutherans and Episcopalians together will take on the task of providing food for tens of thousands of people who have escaped Hurricane Katrina, according to Heather L. Feltman, director for Lutheran Disaster Response, a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). About 23,000 people, who have taken refuge at the Superdome in New Orleans since Aug. 28, attempted to move Sept. 1 to the Houston Astrodome.

"The Red Cross does not have the capacity" to provide food for people in the Astrodome this month, and "it has asked faith communities for help," said Feltman. "In the fourth week of September, Lutherans and Episcopalians together will work to provide food" for people in the Astrodome.

"It will take $1 million to feed people for one week," said Feltman. "We are committed to seeing that this happens. Volunteers from the Lutheran church and the Episcopal Church will be needed," she said.

The ELCA entered into a "full communion" relationship with the Episcopal Church in 2001. Both churches engage in a variety of shared ministries, including the exchange of clergy under certain circumstances.

Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA Domestic Disaster Response

Saving human life continues to be priority as search and rescue efforts continue, after Hurricane Katrina caused massive destruction in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, said Feltman.

"Lutheran Disaster Response is waiting for permission to enter disaster areas, but it is working with local partners to provide immediate" assistance to people "displaced from their homes, communities and work," she said.

Lutheran Disaster Response is also "ready to deploy emotional and spiritual care for people in affected areas, once we receive word that it is safe to do so," she said.

"As in past disasters, the ELCA's response to Hurricane Katrina will include spiritual and emotional counseling, care for caregivers, volunteer support for debris removal and, eventually, home rebuilding," said Feltman, who also serves as director for ELCA Domestic Disaster Response.

"The sense of loss and grief is overwhelming," Feltman said, adding "thanks to God for the generous response this country has shown for people impacted by this catastrophic storm."

In response to "immediate needs, hardship grants are available to ELCA and other community members who have been displaced and need assistance with emergency expenses such as temporary housing, child care, special medical equipment or health care needs," she said.

"Volunteers will be available to help survivors navigate and access the resources available to them as they rebuild their homes and lives," Feltman said.

"Hurricane Katrina has damaged many churches and many churches are under water," said Feltman. "As soon as flood waters recede, we will have a better assessment of what the overall status is," she said.

ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod

"No one knows the full status of homes and (ELCA) churches" located in southern Louisiana, according to the Rev. Paul J. Blom, bishop of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, Houston.

The synod is made up of 130 congregations, with 19 congregations in Louisiana. As many as 10 congregations in Louisiana may have sustained damage from wind and flood produced by the hurricane. Several church buildings "are probably under water, but we just don't know," said Blom.

Christ the King Lutheran Church, Kenner, La., is under somewhere between five and eight feet of water, said Blom. Aerial pictures taken by helicopter show only flood water, rooftops of houses and the rooftop of a shopping center in Kenner, he said.

"To our knowledge St. Mark Lutheran Church, Metairie, La., did not suffer from flooding," he said.

As water levels rose in New Orleans, some generators stopped working because the water was too high. The water may be "contaminated with diesel fuel, sewage, snakes and other critters," Blom said.

Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Chalmette, La., and Grace Lutheran Church, New Orleans, are definitely under water, he said. Bethlehem Lutheran Church, New Orleans, may have flood damage, and Peace Lutheran Church, Slidell, La., may have sustained wind damage, Blom said.

Congregations in the "west bank" of the Mississippi River in Louisiana may not be flooded but may have sustained damage from hurricane winds, Blom said.

Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul Lutheran Church, Baton Rouge, have not sustained damage and may serve as "staging areas" to provide emergency services to congregations affected by the hurricane, said Blom.

Many ELCA pastors from the New Orleans area have taken refuge in Houston, he said. "My biggest concern is care for our pastors and associates in ministry who will have no homes, no congregations and no paychecks, since everything is shut down or destroyed," Blom said.

"I'm asking congregations, particularly from the Texas-side of the synod as well as across the church, to support and/or sponsor families and pastors who need help. We need to keep the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod operational and help people who need help by maintaining a stream of funds to purchase food and keep our leaders and members healthy," he said.

ELCA Southeastern Synod

The Rev. Ronald B. Warren, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, Atlanta, and staff of Lutheran Disaster Response are preparing to visit Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2 "to set up a staging area to receive emergency supplies" for survivors of Hurricane Katrina, said Elaine S. Schwartz, director for communication resources, ELCA Southeastern Synod.

Warren and others will be visiting congregations in Alabama and Mississippi, and will survey hurricane-devastated communities in both states, said Schwartz. They "will visit Christus Victor, Ocean Springs, Miss., which is housing more than 30 people displaced by the storm," Schwartz said. The church has significant damage to its administrative building, but it is able to provide shelter to many of its members who are now without homes, she said. The church "has a generator and gas for cooking, but gasoline used to run the generator is running out."

Grace Lutheran Church, Gulf Shores, Ala., sustained minimal damage, she said. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Daphne, Ala., is "okay" and "cleaning up," said Schwartz.

Grace Lutheran Church, Long Beach, Miss., is providing shelter for about 30 members of the congregation. "The church sustained damage but is able to provide shelter. Windows were not broken, but water came in," she said.

"The four states of the ELCA Southeastern Synod" -- Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee -- "have suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina. There is a great need for congregations (of the synod) to develop teams of people willing to help (survivors) by going to disaster locations as work crews and raising funds for Lutheran Disaster Response," said Bob Tribble, coordinator for the ELCA Southeastern Synod, Lutheran Disaster Response.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans -- a Minneapolis-based, not- for-profit financial services organization serving the ELCA and other Lutheran church bodies -- has initiated a gift supplement program for members of Thrivent who want to support hurricane relief and recovery efforts.

The program could result in collecting more than $3 million to support survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Thrivent will provide one dollar for every two dollars donated by Thrivent members to Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, LCMS World Relief/Human Care and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Committee on Relief. These organizations will distribute funds to people in need of assistance using their established processes.

For more information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or