A New Orleans pastor wrote me a note on Facebook this morning. The recent trouble Hurricane Isaac inflicted upon our area reminded him of the days, weeks, and months in late 2005/early 2006 when we were recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
One thing in particular we did he says he is missing.
We convened the pastors each Wednesday morning from 9 to noon. This weekly meeting began while most of us were in evacuation and continued for over two years before we began to slack off as life started to return to normal.
I said to the pastor this morning, “We did a lot of things in those meetings—conveyed information, connected the needy with helpers, we worshiped and prayed, and perhaps best of all, we fellowshiped.”
That’s what we need after a major disaster: to meet with others experiencing the same trauma for understanding, affirmation, guidance, and assistance.
We need fellowship.
One quote from a Homestead, Florida, pastor who went through Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 lingers with me all these years later. In 2005, when he visited our area, he noted the way our pastors and other leaders were ministering to one another and observed, “After Andrew wiped out our area, no one got the pastors together. Within a year, every pastor had relocated.”
Looking back, I suppose one could say our meetings were energized and the fellowship was driven by the massive scope of Katrina’s devastation. Every pastor, every church, was affected to some degree. Several pastors lost everything–their homes, their neighborhoods, their churches. Some had church members who lost their lives. Of the pastors who still had churches, most had sustained a great deal of damage either from the winds or the floodwaters. It was a rare church that came through unscathed.
This time, however, Isaac left most of our churches alone and unharmed while damaging several others. An all-out call for pastors to get together on a weekly basis for comfort and encouragement would probably not get the response today which ours did in 2005.
In those days, our attendance ranged from 40 or 50 to nearly 100. Denominational leaders and visitors who wanted to meet our pastors and other leaders quickly learned that the Wednesday morning meeting was “the place” where they were most likely to find them. Early on, when some guests from outside our state showed up carrying envelopes containing $300 for each pastor, our people decided real quick that they didn’t want to miss this meeting!
I’ve written a good deal about fellowship on this blog. In almost all cases, however, the context has been within the local church. I’m a big believer in God’s people meeting, getting to know each other, ministering to one another, and in general, just hanging out.
Fellowship in this sense–as a strategy for post-trauma healing–moves it to a higher level. People who have been traumatized by a hurricane are in no mood for games and laughter or even just sitting quietly over coffee. They need the touch of significant people in their lives who care deeply, understand as much as they can, and are willing to go the extra mile in helping them.
Many a tear was shed by hurting ministers (and not a few lay people) at our weekly gatherings. There was lots of hugging and many prayers ascended. Every meeting ended with participants breaking into small groups and interceding for one another.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my pastor friend this morning was missing the prayer groups more than anything.
All of us, but particularly shepherds of the Lord’s flocks, need one another in good times and bad. It’s just that the need becomes so much more urgent in times of disaster. Oh, that we would meet regularly when the sun is shining to strengthen and encourage each other.