Rebuilding Homes and Lives in New England

By Katie Livingood
Synod Communications Director

The New England Synod’s (ELCA) year got off to a rocky start in 2011 when a tornado struck the night before their Synod Assembly directly across from the building they were to gather in.

The floodwaters in Shelburne, Mass. Photo from CNN.

A few months later, New Englanders watched Hurricane Irene approach the coast, eventually downgrading to Tropical Storm Irene. The initial damage was not as bad as predicted. Just when residents were starting to breathe a sigh of relief, the flooding began. The after-effects of the tropical storm brought flood waters to much of New England. Both people and historic covered bridges were washed away. Nearly every major road was closed or damaged.

In September 2011, the Southeastern Minnesota Synod sent $3,000 to the New England Synod, our domestic partner synod, to aid in the recovery process.

Bishop Margaret Payne stated in a thank you letter to our synod, “Although roads and bridges were repaired by the state as quickly as possible so that there could be access for tourists in the fall – the season when many local businesses make most of their year’s profits – there was little attention to individuals who lost so much.” Because of a small gift from southeastern Minnesota, some of those individuals and communities were able to start rebuilding their lives.

The Vermont/New York Conference was tasked with distributing the funds where the need was greatest. St. Paul Lutheran Church, Proctor, Vt., received $1,000, which they distributed two ways. Half went to a family in the congregation whose home was destroyed. The other half went to a farmer who lost his entire crop, forcing him to spend every resource he had to feed his cattle and rehabilitate his fields.

Rev. A. Eric Van Leeuwen of St. Paul’s thanked the Southeastern Minnesota Synod for their gift saying, “This assistance made a real difference to them and was a powerful witness to them and to our whole congregation on what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.”

Another $500 went to Melrose Terrace in West Brattleboro, Vt. Within three days of the storm hitting, Brattleboro was under 12 feet of water. Melrose Terrace, a retirement village and home to over 80 seniors, was located on the banks of the Whetstone Brook. It was totally washed away. The residents of Melrose Terrace were all low-income members of the community and were left with few belongings and no resources to replace household and personal goods. Thanks to generosity from throughout the church, including our synod, the congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church, Brattleboro has been able to set up immediate and long-term assistance to help the residents of Melrose Terrace reestablish their lives.

Other funds went to assist the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Brattleboro replace all contents of their flooded building; repair mold damage in the basement of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Plattsburgh, N.Y.; replace the water heater in the home of on parishioner in Plattsburgh and repair flood damage in the home of another; and repair the furnace in Blue Spruce Lodge, an old inn given to the synod that is in the process of becoming a half-way house for people transitioning from prison life into society.

Nature ravaged much of New England in 2011. The New England Synod is currently in a three-year Mission Strategy Process called “Doing what matters.” For many of their residents, “what mattered” in 2011 was knowing that the community of God was walking with them through some devastating events and helping them rebuild their lives. The Southeastern Minnesota Synod was blessed to be a small part of that.

Watch the April and May issues of River Crossings for more stories like this from other synods. See also the March issue of the Bridge (included in the February River Crossings) for more on this story.

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