In the days after 9/11, numerous religious groups stepped up to the challenge of providing for the material and spiritual needs of New Yorkers.
Among those that stepped up the most was Lutheran Disaster Relief of New York, an agency that was formed by the leaders of the two main Lutheran denominations in New York — the New York synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Over seven years, the agency distributed more than $9 million in grants, assistance, programs and services.
Lutheran Disaster Relief of New York recently disbanded and is worthy of a tribute. Lutherans don’t have the highest profile in New York’s religious mix these days, so many people not be aware of what the agency did.
The agency seemed to be involved with every corner of 9/11-related relief. John Scibilia, its first executive director (that’s him), helped me out with several 9/11-related stories and knew the right person to call on everything. The agency provided food vouchers for families, college tuition to people who lost parents, and was involved in numerous interfaith responses to 9/11.
The agency also provided $500,000 in grants to Koinonia, a Lutheran summer camp based in Sullivan County that offered numerous programs in NYC after 9/11: faith walks at Ground Zero, spiritual tours of downtown, summer Bible programs at city churches, and retreats for out-of-towners who wanted to do acts of kindness in NYC.
The agency’s commitment was due in large part to the commitment of Bishop Stephen Bouman, then head of the ELCA’s New York Synod, and the Rev. Dr. David Benke, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Atlantic District. The two are personal friends who didn’t let their theological differences affect their ability to work together to help those in need.
In 2004, Bouman wrote:
It has become clear to me that we’re entering an intense period of recovery. Far from being a distant memory, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, are looming larger than ever in the lives of its victims. A pastor tells me that he has just returned from visiting a widow of this tragedy in the hospital, who tried to take her life. The economic victims are struggling to find jobs, keep apartments, locate food, care for children in the midst of the hardest economy in recent memory. Many of the private and public disaster institutions are moving on, and many of the religious organizations have ceased giving any money for direct relief or funding of programs.
A theology of the cross and the generosity of our brothers and sisters in Christ keeps LDRNY in the midst of the comfort and renewal, working with others to help keep hope alive.
Around the same time, Benke wrote:
We’ve been learning what it means to be the Body of Christ. As the dust and ashes of mourning are remembered on this third commemoration, we pledge never to forget. But central to our remembrance is the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for us. Central to our remembrance is the strength of common action on behalf of hurting humanity granted to us as the Body called to action. Central to our remembrance is the connective tissue of our common Lutheran bond. Central to our remembrance is the frailty of the human condition and our desire to leave no one behind. And central to our remembrance is the undying commitment of LDRNY to bring comfort and renewal for years to come.
I know a lot of other religious agencies did big-time work after 9/11, but Lutheran Disaster Relief of New York was involved in everything and stuck it out for a long time. People should know.