I have lost track of the number of pastoral calls, notes, and letters on top of visits made on your behalf as the people of The United Church of Canada to those affected by so-called natural disasters over the past two years.
Today’s conversation with Gwen Nicol-Macdonald (serving North Street United in Goderich, Ontario, with her spouse, Roy) brings yet another expression of gratitude to you for your prayers. Gwen is eloquent about what is happening in her community not only physically but also spiritually. She paints a compelling picture, as seen through her comments:
- The North Street United Church building was untouched by the tornado even though it’s very close to so many buildings lost and damaged. When she and Roy are out and about, people they don’t even know and wouldn’t expect to recognize them as the ministers at North St. constantly and anxiously ask, “How is the church?” When they explain that there’s not a mark on it, these faces relax and seem more hopeful. The church appears to be a positive symbol of hope, “Very powerful,” as Gwen says, and a comment that will be brought into their more intimate congregational conversations in and about their future.
- Members of their congregation have been dramatically impacted personally: several have lost homes; they have businesses that they cannot get into—even to salvage—which also means that employees who counted on those jobs are left without income, and so on. “It’s a mess,” Gwen says, and yet folks are resilient. One of the congregants has an auto body shop that was levelled, and yesterday he set up business again in a makeshift shelter.
- Their hearts bleed for their United Church brothers and sisters at Victoria Street United, who learned this morning that over the next few days their entire building will need to come down as far as the stone foundation. They are also suffering for their Presbyterian friends, whose church building cannot yet be entered. Given last night’s rain, they know that water is pouring into the $855,000 organ, and nothing can be done about it.
- Last night was traumatic for many as the winds and rain came with the warning of another tornado. Student minister Tom Dunbar, serving Victoria Street United, also wrote about this this morning: “More tornado warnings have many openly frightened. Fear is a horrible companion. That being said, there are moments of relief and even sparks of pride and joy: the sense of community, the open sharing exhibited, often from strangers, and even surprises at what one is capable of accomplishing. We have one very senior member who continues to live at home. Although carrying the burden of age and failing health, she shared a moment of what she described as sheer bliss. As there is no gas yet to her very small home, cooking was a challenge. So, after sitting for years on her kitchen counter, she finally learned to use the microwave oven her family had given her long ago. ‘Did you realize just how handy this machine could be?’ she asked, beaming.”
- They all still feel pretty “fuzzy” now, and people are coming to terms with the fact that this will be a marathon. Today it’s just about figuring out the next small step; tomorrow they will need to stick together for the long haul.
- Gwen and Tom Dunbar have both expressed deep gratitude for the prayers of the whole church, and report that people “feel lifted” at hearing about our commitment to prayers today and for the long haul. I have assured them of our prayers for the longer term, for the time “after the adrenalin has worn off and all the media and emergency response folks have left,” as Gwen puts it.
- Finally, a poignant picture: “When Roy was out on his bike yesterday, he saw two little boys hauling a wagon, bringing lemonade and sandwiches to the hydro and gas workers.”
That’s the picture of a different kind of power—the power of love.
I often quote Isaiah 43:2 in pastoral letters: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
When we see little boys hauling a wagon full of lemonade and sandwiches, we know that God is with us. And God is with us as the whole church prays. In these and other ways, we take part in God’s healing of soul, community, and creation.