By Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Rev. Ingo Dutzmann and his wife, Daria, should have been sleeping in their bedroom on March 11. Months of mold cleanup on the room had just been completed and the couple — who had been sleeping on couches elsewhere in their 100-year-old “dream home” in Taunton, Mass. — could have slept in their own bed.
But they decided to wait one more day. And it’s a good thing.
Or maybe, as Ingo Dutzmann likes to say, “it’s a God thing.”
Because that night, just before 2 a.m., gas that had leaked into the basement from an ice-damaged line outside exploded, and the north side of the house — including the bedroom — was quickly engulfed in flames.
“We should have been in that room,” Dutzmann told Reporter April 2. If they had, the fire chief told him, “we would have been dead.”
The explosion blew out windows that landed 100 feet away, and the front door sailed some 40 feet into the nearby Segreganset River.
Dutzmann, pastor of First Lutheran Church in downtown Boston, said he believes “God’s angels are watching over” him and his family. And, he surmises, “there’s still a purpose for us to be here.”
Also in the home that night were the couple’s son, Alex, their daughter-in-law, Amy, and 8-year-old grandson, Tristin. In spite of a few panicky moments trying to open the jammed door to Tristin’s bedroom, and the pastor’s initial confusion that may have resulted from inhaling the leaking gas, everyone got out of the house without injury — most of them ran across the snow-covered lawn on that sub-freezing night in their pajamas and bare feet.
Although fire trucks arrived in 10 minutes, the flames were so intense the fire burned for eight hours, consuming pretty much everything — furniture, clothing, valuable papers, photos and family heirlooms, including their treasured 1712 German “Luther” Bible from Dutzmann’s grandmother.
But, on a positive note, Daria’s gold wedding band was found, “deep in a hole, underneath sludge”; the family has “good insurance”; and they have been “blessed” by the love and care of many, according to the pastor.
Guest preachers — including New England District President Rev. Timothy Yeadon and the Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of Church and Community Engagement with the Synod’s Office of National Mission — assisted with Sunday worship at First Lutheran after the fire, giving Dutzmann more time to handle post-fire details, and more time to heal.
Yeadon said he wasn’t surprised when Dutzmann — “one of [the district’s] most beloved pastors” — began his comments to a Boston TV reporter “with a genuine ‘I praise Jesus Christ.’
“I can assure you that those words of his were genuine and they are so typical of this man of God,” Yeadon said. “He did not deny the hurt he had and what he was feeling and enduring. But he turned to His Savior in praise.”
Yeadon said he was “honored” as he served the First Lutheran congregation and the Dutzmann family in their time of need, “and in the end I felt as if I was the blessed one.”
For five days after the tragedy, Hernandez spent time with Dutzmann, who had gone through “an emotionally wrenching” experience and needed someone to talk to, pray with and just “be there” for him.
“What a blessing that was!” said Dutzmann, who described Hernandez as “so good at assessing the scene and caring for the people who are involved.”
Hernandez, whom he met some 15 years ago when the two worked together on an urban-housing project, “has a calming influence, he loves the Lord … and he has a way of putting his hand on your shoulder and saying, ‘Brother, it’s going to be OK. I’m here for you, and the Lord never quits — He’s always there for you.’ “
Dutzmann says he “absolutely” needed that assurance from a fellow pastor.
He “has no doubt” he was traumatized by the incident, he says, and even weeks later still has trouble keeping track of time and remembering things.
“In my life, I am used to being in tough situations with people who are experiencing trauma, and I’m there to comfort them — I can manage that pretty well,” explained Dutzmann, who ministered to a dozen or more victims of the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago (see related story here). “This is the other side. And it’s tough to accept help from other people, and it’s tough to admit that you even need the help.
“I know that I need help. And I know that people who want to help me feel that it’s a privilege to do it,” just as he feels privileged — as a pastor — to reach out to others who are hurting.
That help has come in many forms, including:
- almost $20,000 from the LCMS New England District, which has pledged to “continue to be there for this family, this pastor and this congregation,” according to President Yeadon.
- more than $12,000 from Lutheran Church Extension Fund employees, district vice-presidents and their staffs (Dutzmann has served since 1991 as New England District vice-president for LCEF), current and former members of the LCEF board of directors and an LCMS district.
“We have said many prayers of thanksgiving and praise for the safety of Ingo and his family,” LCEF President and CEO Richard C. Robertson told Reporter. “Our gracious Father has already provided for them, and His loving arms will certainly embrace them through this challenge.
“As a family, the staff of LCEF wanted to express in a tangible way our love and support of the family, and set up this fund knowing they will face many expenses in the coming months.”
- an offer from LCMS Disaster Response to help cover the “gaps” between what insurance pays and what is needed, if additional funds are needed.
- $350 received by Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) as donations for the family.
LCC handlers also brought two “comfort dogs” to a March 14 gathering of some 40 family members, friends and supporters at a local Italian restaurant — Bella Roma, which donated food and drink.
The event was planned by the New England District to “bring a presence of comfort, peace and strength” to the Dutzmanns, and to give the family an opportunity to thank first responders — firemen, police officers, Red Cross volunteers and Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye. Also attending were district staff members, including Yeadon, Human Care Deaconess Tiffany Manor and District Disaster Response Coordinator Brenda Bacon.
Bacon, who has known and worked with Dutzmann for 24 years and believes “it’s truly a miracle” that he and his family survived the explosion and fire, says the pastor “has a shepherd’s heart and is dedicated to his family and church.”
Although they “lost everything, this family has a strong faith and trust in God that will bring them through this tragedy,” Bacon added. And she asked for prayers “that God’s strength and comfort guide them through this next year as they begin the process of rebuilding.”
Dutzmann calls the contributions and support “astonishing,” and says the family is thankful beyond measure.
At this writing, he and Daria were living in a hotel room but were planning to move to a vacant home owned by friends that’s up for sale in Framingham, Mass. (In characteristic good humor, the pastor quipped: “I pray — for the couple — that it sells soon. I pray — for us — that it takes a long time!”)
Son Alex and his family are living in a mobile home that’s been moved to the Dutzmann property.
Family members will take life one day at a time, Ingo Dutzmann said, not knowing what each new day will bring.
“And since you don’t know,” he added, “you entrust yourself to the Lord’s hand and you pray that if you do wake up that you see every morning as a new opportunity to be God’s child” — to “make the best of each day … and to let people see you as God’s child.”
Posted April 10, 2015 / Updated April 13, 2015 / Updated May 13, 2015