By Paula Schlueter Ross
The Rev. Ingo Dutzmann, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Boston, chokes up when he talks about those who were bloodied and maimed in the April 15 bombings, just four blocks from the church.
“To me, they’re all ‘we’ — we’re in this together,” he says. Exhausted after an emotionally draining week, he’s trying to live up to the “Boston Strong” motto, but points to the injured as the real heroes.
There’s the woman “who thought she would lose her leg,” the wounds were so bad, but she didn’t. Dutzmann and two Lutheran Church Charities “Comfort Dogs,” with their handlers, were in her hospital room when she took “her first steps” since the horrific blasts.
The dog handlers — who often are called to scenes of pain and destruction — said seeing the young woman walk “was the best day of their lives,” according to the pastor. All were teary-eyed, he said, thankful to God for the woman’s good prognosis.
There’s the man who lost both legs, “who woke up [in the hospital] and he was so happy that he’d lost his legs because he’d thought that he’d died,” recalled Dutzmann. Even as a double amputee, that injured marathon runner is embracing life, the pastor notes.
Dutzmann also recalled the positive spirits of a young, newly married couple — each lost a leg and are recuperating in separate hospitals.
All in all, he’s ministered to probably a dozen or more bombing victims in four area hospitals.
The back-to-back homemade bombs killed three people and injured more than 260. With one suspect dead and the other in custody, Boston residents are relieved, but the pain is still there, notes the Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of Church and Community Engagement with the LCMS Office of National Mission.
Two days after the bombings, Hernandez and LCMS New England District President Rev. Timothy Yeadon were there, talking and praying with people who stopped by First Lutheran Church, a church that “will never be the same again,” according to Hernandez. “It is now known nationally and internationally as a place of comfort in times of crisis.”
Still, “families, singles, students living around First will continue to struggle to understand the meaning of this evil and ask, ‘Are we safe here? Could this happen again? Why [is there] evil alongside a caring God?,’ ” Hernandez muses.
With four local pastors present, the LCMS church opened its doors within three hours of the 2:50 p.m. bombings and stayed open from 7 a.m. to midnight for five days afterward. Five Comfort Dogs arrived the evening after the blasts and stayed “on duty” — for bombing victims and Boston residents as well as emergency and healthcare personnel — at the church, on the street and in area hospitals through Sunday, April 21. During the stressful week, Dutzmann was often out on the sidewalk in front of the church, inviting strangers inside for free coffee and snacks, conversation and prayers.
On Wednesday, April 17, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, delivered to the church 240 copies of a special edition of Portals of Prayer that addresses the question “Where Is God Now?” The booklets include 60 “hope-inspired devotions” written especially for those affected by disasters, along with a list of resources. Almost all of the copies have been distributed to “very receptive” people, according to Elaine Laaser, parish administrator at First Lutheran.
Also in CPH’s package of grief-support materials were 20 copies of Strength for the Day, a resource for pastors that’s designed to help them deal with life challenges such as stress, illness, fatigue, loss and anxiety.
“Our hearts were broken by the news of the bombings and we immediately wanted to help,” said Amanda Christie, senior manager of Corporate Communications and Publicity for CPH. “We have the good fortune of sharing God’s Word with the world. But sometimes it’s our own member congregations who need His Word most.”
Located downtown, First Lutheran Church was well-placed to reach many people, noted Laaser. “On an average day, especially with the Comfort Dogs there, we saw anywhere from 300 to 400 people,” she told Reporter. The dogs were a real asset, she said, because people “didn’t want to talk about it”: They just wanted to pet the dogs and feel like everything was going to be OK.
Even on Friday, April 19, the day Boston authorities asked everyone to stay inside because the second suspect was still at-large, Laaser took a call from a student at Emerson College who wanted to know if the church was open and the dogs were there. The students — about 150 in all — walked more than a mile from the college to the church in groups of 20 beginning at about 10 a.m. They were away from home and scared, Laaser said, and “they would put their heads on these dogs and just cry.” Many also prayed with Dutzmann.
That ministry of First Lutheran Church — and other ways LCMS Lutherans have responded to the marathon bombings — were simply “a desire to share the love of Jesus,” explained New England District President Yeadon. In an interview with Reporter on Friday, April 19, Yeadon said, “I have personally seen the darkness this week, but I have personally seen the light of Jesus shine! The darkness cannot overcome that!”
Yeadon calls Dutzmann “a true saint” who “shows the love of Jesus to all — church member or not.” Even though the Boston pastor “is tired and worn and it may show … you will be amazed at his love of Christ and his zeal, even now.”
Although Yeadon was unable to attend a special marathon-memorial worship service April 21 at First Lutheran Church, he sent a letter to the congregation that was read by former New England District President Rev. James Keurulainen. (An earlier service planned for Friday, April 19, was cancelled because of that day’s citywide lockdown.)
“With Jesus on the cross, we can ask of our heavenly Father, in light of last week’s events, ‘My God, My God … why?’ But with Jesus, we end that conversation with our heavenly Father with the words, ‘ Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit,’ ” Yeadon wrote.
“Even without total understanding, we can, with His help, place ourselves into His hands once nailed to the cross for us all. We remember that which connects it all, His words of ‘Father, forgive them,’ and we know that in this broken world with terror and unexplainable tragedies that the love of our God shines in the darkness — and the darkness will not overcome it.”
On Tuesday, April 16 — the day after the bombings — LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison released a prayer and a statement asking for “blessings for the injured and strength for the bereaved” as well as for doctors, emergency workers and city, state and federal officials “as they face this evil in dedicated service.”
Said Harrison: “Like the death of our Lord Christ Himself, we pray that, even in this dark hour, the sacrifice and pain of those affected will not be in vain, but redound in good as yet unseen.”
He also shared from 2 Cor. 1:3-5, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.”
According to Laaser, some 30 nonmembers — including about 18 college students — were among some 230 people who attended First Lutheran’s two services on April 21. The congregation is planning a second memorial service, she said, and wants people to know “We’re here to pray with you, we’re here to talk to you.”
Dutzmann is considering making one or two Comfort Dogs a permanent part of the congregation’s ministry.
One of Laaser’s lasting memories, she said, is of seeing her pastor out on the church sidewalk, encouraging passersby to “come on in.” Even though there are many Christian churches in the area, Dutzmann was “the only [pastor] I saw out there, actually standing on the sidewalk.”
Laaser said the whole weeklong ordeal was wrenching and exhausting, but, at the same time, she added, “I was just so honored and proud to be a Lutheran.”
Posted April 24, 2013 / Updated May 8, 2013