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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Florida Lutherans weary, shining

Following the devastation of four massive hurricanes, Florida Lutherans show signs of wear but also of deep faithfulness.

"I observe caring and sensitive leadership. I see ministers offering themselves as guides to fearful and uncertain people," says Bishop Edward Benoway, Florida-Bahamas Synod. "Powerfully relevant sermons are being preached from our pulpits and from the midst of the messes."

Many church leaders, like parishioners, suffered damage to homes and property. Roof damage was common. This led to water damage in homes, mold and mildew, and the need to remove carpeting and interior walls.

"What seems most pressing and exhausting for pastors is to continue to minister to congregations and communities," says Rita Gardner Tweed, an assistant to the bishop, "and then to tend to home repairs and care of their families."

Tweed says high insurance deductibles have set back many congregations and individuals. Financial woes are complicated by lost offerings from services canceled during the hurricanes. Some parishioners have moved closer to family and aren't rebuilding destroyed homes. And fall attendance dropped since tourism decreased and winter visitors were delayed.

"Care for caregivers is a tremendous concern," Benoway says. Lutheran Services Florida (the coordinating partner for Lutheran Disaster Response in the synod) set up counseling services. Professionally trained care teams regularly check on rostered leaders and attend colleague gatherings. The synod is making the services of retired clergy available to assist pastors and allow them time away.

"The body of Christ has been shining," Tweed says. "Pastors, spouses and neighbors from less devastated congregations can be found nailing tarps to roofs, leading work groups and driving trucks filled with needed supplies. The mutual caretaking is a reminder of what it means to be the church together and serve in the name of Jesus Christ."

On Oct. 26, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson met with synod church leaders and preached at a service of worship and healing. "The greatest source of healing for us is in the meal shared and the word proclaimed," Benoway says.

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