Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday Post-Sandy

Heading into worship, I wrestled with somehow focusing worship on Sandy and its aftermath or maintaining a tried and true routine.  As the Pastor of a small church in the New York City borough of Queens, but a part of Queens that had not been heavily impacted by the storm, I had the sense that it was too early to focus on our shared experience as we were still in its midst, that we needed some psychological and temporal distance to gain perspective.  I also knew that when in a crisis and time of anomie, maintaining a routine can provide spiritual and psychological grounding, bring comfort, and provide meaning.
At the last minute I opted to spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of the worship hour processing our experience of Sandy.  I shared some personal hurricane stories and talked about what I knew about how some church members and friends faired the storm.  I also invited others in worship to share their experiences and tell their stories.  At least four worshipers did so.

About a quarter hour later than usual, I began worship proper with the Call to Worship.  Our second liturgical act was a Prayer of Adoration that recognized that our worship was in the context of a post-Sandy world.  The sermon, with Psalm 146, especially the third verse as its text, focused primarily on the upcoming Presidential election, but also, to a lesser extent, our experience of Sandy.  The Prayers of the People included a petition for first responders, rescue workers and those providing hurricane relief as well as the victims of Sandy, including those who had lost possessions and homes, were displaced and homeless, had been injured, or lost neighbors, friends, loved ones and family to the storm.

Later in the afternoon I finally was able to make phone contact with a friend who lives Belle Habor in the Rockaways, not far from Breezy Point.  Belle Harbor is the site of the fatal 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587.  Breezy point is where over one hundred homes burned to the ground during the height of Sandy.  My friend talked about choosing to stay in her home rather than evacuating, having lost her car to the rising tide and still having, five days later, six feet of water in her basement and no electricity or heat in her home.
She reflected on watching her neighbor’s homes in Breezy Point burn to the ground, wondering if the fire would continue to spread and engulf her home.  She said she thought her children, rather young when Flight 587 crashed in their neighborhood, were experiencing PTSD as the sights, sounds and images of Sandy’s destruction were conjuring up repressed memories of that crash eleven years ago.

She talked about the generosity of others who were bringing relief supplies to her neighborhood, but how those supplies were often being left along the side of the street next to debris cleaned out from people’s basements becoming co-mingled and perhaps contaminated.
She was thankful bus service had been restored to her neighborhood, but lamented that many basements still needed to be pumped out, that debris still needed to be picked up, and that power had yet to be restored by Sunday Afternoon, more than five full days after Sandy struck.

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