Following the devastation that was created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I spoke with a friend who traveled to the New Orleans area to assist with re-building efforts. While there, he met volunteers from Florida. In conversations with them he learned that residents from that state were still restoring neighborhoods—and lives—from Hurricane Andrew. And that was in 1992.
This has been an especially traumatic year for residents of the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean as one major storm after another has brought damaging winds and flooding. In addition, we have heard reports of monsoons in Indonesia and earthquakes in Mexico and the loss of life and homes that have resulted from them. As I look up into the mostly blue skies over Connecticut, I am ever mindful of those who have been turning their gaze to the horizon in other parts of the world with nervous anticipation.
While re-building efforts from recent storms will necessarily involve broad support from the federal government and large institutions, there is a decisive role that communities of faith can play in this ongoing work of healing. From the earliest days of the Christian movement, congregations have reached out to one another with helping hands for the long haul. Even before the church was called the church, when Christian congregations consisted of small gatherings of people who met in homes or the places where they worked, these people of faith were conscious of belonging to a global community. So even as St. Paul worked with brand new communities in Greece not more than twenty years after the death of Jesus, he wasted no time in making them aware of the material needs of their brothers and sisters living in Jerusalem, and so began to collect an offering on their behalf. As if to say, you are the body of Christ: let me introduce you to an offering plate.
On October 1, World Communion Sunday, the congregation of Round Hill Community Church will dedicate its morning offering to the work of Church World Service (CWS), an ecumenical agency based in Elkhart, Indiana. For many decades, Church World Service has dedicated its expertise and resources to support people whose lives have been overturned by natural disaster, and to continue to offer that care long after the impact on them has slipped from media attention. You will find these words of their commitment on the CWS website: Whether along the shores of New Jersey or in the capital of Haiti, a disaster does not go away once attention turns elsewhere. In fact, for many the struggle to recover from a disaster can take months, even years. That is why CWS ardently promotes the local long-term recovery effort in communities affected by disaster. CWS disaster response partners, such as denominational and secular relief agencies, bring together faith-based and secular groups to work together following a disaster.
When we send our offering to Church World Service, I hope we will also send our commitment to offer helping hands for the long haul: perhaps through other offerings, or participation on work teams to assist with re-building, or by partnering with a congregation in an affected area, and always with prayers and heart felt concern. To paraphrase a comment by Mother Teresa: “We may not always be able to do great things, but we can always do small things with great love.”