Story by Kevin Armbrust | Photos by Erik M. Lunsford
When Hurricane Sally made landfall as a Category 2 storm on Sept. 16, she did not pass quickly over Alabama and the Western Panhandle of Florida. Instead, she sat and dumped rain — up to 30 inches in some locations — before battering the area with severe winds, causing uprooted trees, damaged roofs, extensive power outages and widespread loss of cell phone service.
As he met with pastors of congregations affected by Sally, LCMS Southern District President Rev. Eric C. Johnson reminded them that disaster recovery involves both an immediate response — a “sprint” — and an extended one — a “marathon.” Considering Sally’s slow pace, the racing metaphor was full of irony.
Johnson added, “It’s pretty unprecedented that two hurricanes would hit the same district in two weeks. … [It’s] really stretched us financially to help.” Two weeks earlier, Hurricane Laura had made landfall in Louisiana.
The initial assessment of Hurricane Sally’s damage revealed that 19 congregations in Alabama and Florida were affected. The storm impacted the entire community, including schools, the district camp and members’ homes.
“A lot of people are used to facing hurricanes here, but this one was unexpected. The uncertainty … is unsettling,” said the Rev. William Parsons, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fairhope, Ala. “Every one of my parishioners has damage of some kind.”
“No matter how bad this is, God is with us, and He loves us,” said Paul Pacey III, a Redeemer member who rode out the storm with his family in his home’s lower level once they heard parts of their siding beating against the house. When the storm ended, the morning light revealed a large tree that had destroyed much of the house’s second story.
Five days later, Pacey noted that, after attending church on Sunday, he finally felt closer to normal again. “My wife and I have had the conversation many times, that I don’t know how people get through all of this without Christ and without their church family. …
“It changes everything to be able to call out to your Heavenly Father. It makes it not earth-shattering. God is with us. He is here.”