August 20, 2013

A super response to a superstorm

“There is something about a small church…” The Rev. John Collins of Faith Lutheran Church reflects on his congregation in Lavallette, New Jersey, with a strong sense of pride.“It’s a positive community,” he reveals. “People really pulled together.”

In December 2011, Faith received a loan from the Mission Investment Fund to add a new meeting room, pastor’s office and sacristy to its building. Unfortunately, just as the congregation finished its project, Superstorm Sandy arrived. 

Superstorm Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record with an area twice the size of Texas, hit the Northeastern United States on October 29, 2012. In New Jersey alone, nearly 2.6 million customers were without power, an estimated $30 billion in damages were incurred and 37 lives were lost.

The toll was especially high on Lavallette, which sits on a barrier island. “At one point the storm surge was so high that the ocean and the back-bay met; there was no island,” says the Rev. Mark Wimmer, MIF’s regional manager who visited the congregation in the aftermath of the storm.

Though Faith was spared being lifted from its foundation, as were other structures in Lavallette, Faith did receive significant damage. On top of ruined gasand electrical systems was severe flood damage to the floors and walls. “In all we had to repair 5,000 square feet of our building,” Collins says, noting that the new addition was no exception. “I had to personally take a shovel and pick up the wood floor in the new pastor’s office. That was very hard.”

Collins recalls his feelings when he was first allowed back to visit his church. “If the building had a soul, it was either lost or had died,” he says. ” I was devastated; it was like the loss of a loved one. There were so many memories.”

Without flood insurance and with many months of loan payments left, things didn’t look good for Faith. Meanwhile, the Mission Investment Fund aims to offer assistance when a disaster strikes a congregation or ministry. For Faith, MIF provided temporary relief from making loan payments.

“MIF was extremely gracious,” says Collins. “We are forever indebted to them for that. It helped us to get through that difficult time.” As did 250 volunteers from around the country.

There is still work that needs to be done on the electrical system and in the parsonage, but that is not holding back the community of Faith. “These folks are excited,” says Wimmer. “They have the zeal of a new mission. Faith is a part of their new life.”

Collins agrees. “I don’t mean to play on words,” he says, “but there really has been a resurrection in people’s interest in the church. The storm helped them to realize the value in the church and church community. It helped to remind us how special a church community can be.” It is not only the long-time members who have felt this resurrection, either. “Since the storm, we’ve actually had an increase in attendance; since February, God has sent us 30 new members,” Collins says.

“I always call the congregation a family of faith,” Collins says, and now that family is reaching out its arms to even more. The church already hosts an ecumenical food pantry, but they want to do more. “We’ve learned you need to pay it forward,” explains Collins. “We’re raising money for a van to bring food from our pantry to people who cannot come in to our meals because of a disability or some other reason.”

Despite the challenges that he and his congregation have faced since Superstorm Sandy, Collins is cheered by the way he has seen God’s work performed in response. “On behalf of myself and this congregation, I just want to say thank you. The Mission Investment Fund is a wonderful example of God’s grace.”